WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Stranded by Florence’s epic floods days after the hurricane hit North Carolina, Wilmington residents lined up by the hundreds Tuesday for free food, water and tarps, while officials managed to open a second route into the surrounded city.
The death toll from the storm rose to at least 34 in three states, with 26 fatalities in North Carolina, as Florence’s remnants brought downpours to the heavily populated Northeast, triggering flooding in New Hampshire and New York state. A tornado warning was issued near Salem, Massachusetts.
In Wilmington, population 120,000, workers began handing out supplies using a system that resembled a fast-food drive-thru: Drivers pulled up to pallets lining a street, placed an order and left without having to get out.
Todd Tremain needed tarps to cover up spots where Florence’s winds ripped shingles off his roof. “The roof is leaking, messing up the inside of the house,” he said.
Others got a case of bottled water or military MREs, or field rations. An olive-drab military forklift moved around huge pallets loaded with supplies.
Four days after Florence blew ashore and began unloading more than 2 feet of rain that paralyzed much of North Carolina, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said Tuesday that two routes were now open into Wilmington, which had been cut off by floodwaters.
Still, officials encouraged evacuees to stay away until conditions improve.
Items have been brought into the city by big military trucks and helicopters, which also have been used to pluck hundreds of desperate people from atop homes and other structures.
“Thank you,” a shirtless Willie Schubert mouthed to members of a Coast Guard helicopter crew who picked up him and his dog Lucky from atop a house encircled by water in Pollocksville on Monday. It wasn’t clear how long he had been stranded.
President Donald Trump boasted on Twitter: “Right now, everybody is saying what a great job we are doing with Hurricane Florence — and they are 100% correct.” He warned that the Democrats will soon start criticizing the government response, and “this will be a total lie, but that’s what they do, and everybody knows it!”
The dead include a 1-year-old boy who was swept away after his mother drove into floodwaters and lost her grip on him. Authorities in Virginia said one person was dead after an apparent tornado.
The rain finally stopped and the sun peeked through on Monday, but North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned that dangerously high water would persist for days. He urged residents who were evacuated from the hardest-hit areas to stay away because of closed roads and floodwaters that submerged entire communities.
“There’s too much going on,” he said.
Utility crews from multiple states worked to restore power, and outages were down from a high of more than 900,000 to about 320,000 homes and businesses, nearly all in North Carolina.
Crews conducted about 700 rescues in New Hanover County, where Wilmington is located. About half of all homes and businesses were without power Tuesday, a big improvement from a day earlier. Roads were being cleared and the landfill was open to accept storm refuse.
Wilmington’s mayor said he was working with the governor’s office to get more fuel into Wilmington.
“At this time, things are moving as well as can be in the city,” Saffo said.
Downgraded from a tropical depression, the deadly storm still had abundant rain and top winds around 25 mph (40 kph). Forecasters said states in the Northeast are in for as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain before the system moves offshore again.