Florence death toll in NC rises to 33 with report of evacuee’s death

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An 87-year-old evacuee from Hurricane Florence became the 33rd person to die from the storm in North Carolina after he fell and struck his head in a Guilford County hotel, state emergency officials said.

Throughout the Carolinas and Virginia, the storm has claimed 44 lives.

The man’s name, the hotel, time of death, and the place he was evacuated from weren’t available Sunday morning. The death was reported Saturday by the state medical examiner’s office. He’s the 14th person 65 or older to have died from the storm, according to a state database.

More than a week after Florence hit the Carolinas, flooding remained a threat across much of the southeastern parts of the state Sunday, with nearly 500 roads still closed, including Interstate 40 near Wilmington and Interstate 95 in Robeson County. As flooding recedes in some areas, more is still anticipated in Wilmington, Robeson County and Kinston as the Cape Fear, Lumber and Neuse rivers in those areas have yet to crest.

Steve Abbott, an NC Department of Transportation spokesman, said transportation officials are dealing with repeated cases of drivers going around road barricades, or even worse, moving those barricades off the roads.

“We’re getting calls from our different offices saying we’re seeing this more and more,” he said. “Hopefully nothing else tragic happens.”

He said drivers are making the assumption that because they don’t see water on the roads past the barricades that the roads are safe. But a dry road isn’t necessarily safe. The water could have eroded the shoulders or possibly the road itself, and water could still remain on the road, beyond the view from the barricades.

“If the barrier’s there they should consider that road dangerous,” Abbott said.

The NCDOT is still advising motorists to stay off the roads as much as possible in 10 counties — Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Duplin, Jones, Lenoir, Pender, Robeson, Sampson and Scotland — as well as southeastern Wayne County. The website drivenc.gov gives the latest updates for road conditions.

Recovery efforts continued Sunday as those without power dropped to 14,000 and FEMA opened the first two centers in the state — at 1225 Ramsey St. in Fayetteville and 312 Western Blvd. in Jacksonville — for those dealing with Florence-related damages. The centers are staffed with FEMA specialists to help residents file for grants to pay for things that their insurance may not cover including temporary shelter or repairs to make their homes livable, and with Small Business Administration representatives who can help process low-interest loans for businesses damaged by the storm.

The centers also are staffed with representatives from state agencies and nonprofits offering assistance.

The centers will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays for as long as state, local and federal officials see a need, said John Mills, a FEMA spokesman. He said FEMA will likely open more centers in other areas hit hard by Florence. He urged those seeking help to start with FEMA’s website at disasterassistance.gov or to call FEMA at 800-621-3362.

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Damage estimates are also starting to be reported. One of the hardest hit, New Bern, tallied up the residential damage at $74.5 million and commercial damage at $25.6 million.