HURRICANE FLORENCE: Damaging floodwaters slowly receding

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11 days after making landfall, storm still impacting the region

WILMINGTON — Even as they slowly receded, floodwaters from Hurricane Florence continued to impact many areas across the Cape Fear region Tuesday — 11 days after the slow-moving storm made landfall at Wrightsville Beach.

In downtown Wilmington, the Cape Fear River crested, sending water from the swollen river onto Water Street and low-lying areas of nearby streets.

Barb and Thor Strong marveled at the small waves lapping at the street’s sidewalk.

“We haven’t been downtown since the storm,” Thor Strong said.

“I’ve never seen the river this high,” Barb Strong added.

While walking to start her shift at Cape Fear Spice Merchants, Dawn Logan wrinkled her nose — millions of gallons of partially untreated wastewater spilled throughout the storm was one casualty of Hurricane Florence.

“The smell is just terrible,” she said.

For downtown merchants, the rising floodwaters meant uncertainty in the day’s recovering from the story.

“It’s kind of scary,” said Alex Peacock, an employee at Island Passage, which had floodwaters lapping at its lower Market Street door Tuesday morning. “We’re just kind of playing it by ear.

More rain forecast

Reid Hawkins with the weather service’s Wilmington office said they are still waiting on river models to determine if the river crested Tuesday morning or if it will continue to rise into Tuesday night. But even outside high tide, there is a threat of flooding.

“At low tide, we’ve seen it be about 4 feet above normal, which puts use at minor flooding even at low tide,” he said. “I think it will definitely be above 7 feet tonight.”

As for more rain on the horizon, the tropical disturbance off the coast is still expected to curve north and miss the Carolinas, but not without influencing local forecasts a bit.

Hawkins said the region could see up to 1.25 inches of rain over the next three days, the combination of a front to our west and the tropical system off the coast.

“That rainfall wouldn’t normally be an issue,” he said. “But with the ground saturated already, that could be put us in some flash floods.”

The Northeast Cape Fear River near Burgaw continued to be at about 19 feet Tuesday morning, which keeps the river at major flood stage. But the river has gradually receded since being at above 25 feet, which shattered the previous record of 22.5 feet, according to the NWS.

At 16 feet, “water begins to get into homes, including those that are elevated, in the River Birch and River Bend subdivisions. Floodwaters also get into homes on Croomsbridge Road,” the briefing said. “The river will remain above major flood stage into Wednesday night but will continue to fall into the weekend.”

Distribution site closing

In another sign of some normalcy returning to the region, officials in New Hanover County prepared at noon to shut down the last Point of Distribution (POD) site for meals and water. In their time open, the three distribution sites in the county disbursed 13,600 cases of meals, 13,200 cases of water and 5,600 tarps. The sites were staffed by 312 members of the Civil Air Patrol, most who came to Wilmington from Virginia and Maryland.

Churches and nonprofits continue to serve meals and distribute supplies at other sites.

But signs of the storm’s impact lingered. Florence and the subsequent floodwaters brought significant environmental woes to the region, including the breach of an earthen dam at Sutton Lake and the overtopping of one of the two on-site Duke Energy coal ash basins located there. While Duke says water tests indicate there has been no impact on water quality, environmental organizations said they have seen coal ash in the water and expect to soon have results from their own water sampling.

Additionally, there have been more than 22 million gallons of untreated or semi-treated wastewater spilled across the region and a fish kill at Greenfield Lake.

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