Live updates: Florence is bringing a ‘firehose over the city of Charlotte’

 charlotteobserver.com  9/15/2018 2:57:41 PM  3  Ely Portillo, Joe Marusak And Théoden Janes elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com jmarusak@charlotteobserver.com tjanes@charlotteobserver.com

Sunday 5 a.m. Tropical Storm Florence has been downgraded to a tropical depression, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 a.m. update on the storm’s progress. Florence has maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, below the minimum threshold of 39 mph for a tropical depression. As of 5 a.m., the storm’s center was about 20 miles southwest of Columbia. The system also continues to pick up speed, moving at 8 mph, up from 6 mph as of 2 a.m.

Trees falling, blocking roads

Sunday 4:40 a.m. Across the Charlotte region, trees are coming down, in some cases blocking roads, according to tweets from reporters with Observer news partner WBTV. Around 4 a.m., reporter Carolina Hicks tweeted that Matthews Police had Sam Newell Road near Crown Point Elementary shut down for a downed tree. The tree has been moved out of the way and officers said they were about to reopen the road, according to the tweet. Also around 4 a.m., reporter David Whisenant tweeted a tree was down on power lines at Old Concord Road and Yost Road.

Duke Energy outages rise

Sunday 3:15 a.m. Duke Energy is seeing more customers lose power in the Charlotte metro area overnight. As of about 3:15 a.m., more than 27,000 were without electricity, the utility reported. That’s more than around 12:50 a.m., when about 23,150 had lost power. Mecklenburg County had the largest outages, 15,212, followed by Union County at 3,945, as of 3:15 a.m.

Florence picks up speed, weakens

Sunday 3:10 a.m. Florence, now a tropical storm, is moving faster, according to the National Hurricane Center. As of 2 a.m., the storm was moving at 6 mph — twice the speed the center reported at 11 p.m. Saturday. Also, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, Florence was just barely a tropical storm. Forecasters expect it to become a tropical depression, which has winds of less than 39 mph, later Sunday.

Charlotte area shelter fills

Saturday 9:45 p.m. The shelter at East Mecklenburg, set up at the school gym, is at its 160-person capacity.

Red Cross officials are steering those in need to one of four other shelters that have been set up at Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools: West Mecklenburg, North Mecklenburg, South Mecklenburg and Ardrey Kell. Together, the five Charlotte shelters are now home to more than 400 people. There were so many cots set up in the East Mecklenburg gym Saturday evening that there was little room to walk between them.

Death toll rises to 14

Saturday 9:30 p.m. Across the Carolinas, 14 deaths have been associated with Hurricane Florence.

Eleven of those deaths occurred in North Carolina and three in South Carolina.

Possible coal ash spill at Duke plant

Saturday 9:30 p.m. Coal ash possibly reached Sutton Lake at the Sutton Power Plant in Wilmington, Duke Energy said Saturday night.

A slope failure and erosion in a part of the coal ash landfill displaced enough ash to “fill about two-thirds of an Olympic-sized swimming pool,” according to Duke. Most of the ash was collected in a ditch and haul road that surrounds the landfill on plant property, Duke said.

Duke “does not believe this incident poses a risk to public health or the environment,” the release said.

Death toll rises to 12

Saturday, 7:05 p.m. Eleven people in North Carolina and one in South Carolina had died from storm-related incidents as of Saturday evening, according to state officials. The fatalities illustrate the scope of hazards facing people in Florence’s broad path. The 12 deaths include a mother and baby killed by a tree falling on their home. One person was electrocuted while connecting extension cords in water, and one was blown over by wind while tending his dogs. Another succumbed to a heart attack while emergency workers coming to her aid were blocked by fallen trees.

CATS suspending streetcar

Saturday, 5:30 p.m. The Charlotte Area Transit System announced that the CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar will stop service starting at 7 p.m. on Saturday because of the weather, CATS tweeted. The free public transportation option runs 1.5 miles from the Spectrum Center to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

Gaston County: River flooding likely, be ready to evacuate

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Gaston County’s emergency management agencies warned people who live near the South Fork River to be prepared for flooding through Sunday.

“We are particularly concerned that communities that lie along the South Fork River in the Spencer Mountain, Lowell, McAdenville and Cramerton townships could face significant flooding as we move through the weekend,” the agencies said in a news release. “Residents in this area are asked to prepare now so they can evacuate without delay should the need arise.”

“Significant flood levels” are anticipated by 2 p.m. Sunday. Florence could dump 10 to 15 inches of rain throughout the Charlotte region, with the heaviest precipitation late Saturday and into Sunday.

UNC Charlotte closed again Monday

Saturday, 2:20 p.m. UNC Charlotte joined other local schools and governments, announcing classes have been canceled for Monday.

Residence halls at the school will remain open, but the school is advising non-mandatory employees to avoid campus.

American Airlines only expects ‘scattered cancellations’ in Charlotte

Saturday, 12:15 p.m. As the dregs of Hurricane Florence roll through Charlotte, American Airlines, the city’s main carrier, said it doesn’t expect mass cancellations of flights. The airport remains open.

“At our Charlotte hub, we anticipate scattered cancellations through midday on Sept. 16 (Sunday),” airline officials said in a statement. “The majority of these cancellations will be on smaller, regional aircraft.”

American Airlines operates more than 90 percent of daily flights at Charlotte, and with more than 700 flights per day, it’s the airline’s second-busiest hub. The airport expects to resume flying Sunday at many smaller airports that closed, such as Jacksonville, New Bern, Charleston and Columbia.

All told, American Airlines has canceled 540 flights Saturday, 330 flights Sunday and 30 on Monday.

Duke Energy cautions restoring power could take a while

Saturday, 10:55 a.m. About 11,000 homes are already without power in Charlotte, Duke Energy district manager Martha Thompson said, and turning the lights back on might take longer than usual.

Across North Carolina, more than 534,000 Duke Energy customers are without power. Crews can’t operate in bucket lifts when sustained winds top 30 mph, so in many cases Duke Energy must wait out the storm to get to work.

Thompson warned outages will increase in Charlotte as the bulk of the storm moves in this afternoon through Sunday.

“We are just getting started with this storm,” Thompson said. Duke Energy has tripled its staffing locally, and crews are staged at locations including Carowinds and Charlotte Motor Speedway to respond to outages as the storm passes.

Charlotte officials warn: Don’t let your guard down

Saturday, 10:45 a.m. Although Florence is weakening as it moves inland, city officials don’t want residents to let their guard down as the storm is downgraded from a hurricane. The worst of the rain is still to come, and wind gusts over 40 mph are expected.

“Don’t let the semantics or vernacular fool you,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg spokesman Rob Tufano. There have been 24 blocked roads reported in Charlotte since midnight due to downed trees, power lines and other debris. “We’re starting to see the impact.”

Charlotte Fire Department Reginald Johnson said no injuries have been reported yet due to downed trees. But up to a foot of rain is coming, raising the potential for flooding.

“We were told the worst of the storm will be this afternoon, this evening into tomorrow. The term that was used by the meteorologist was a firehose over the city of Charlotte,” said Johnson. Emergency crews are readying for water rescues, and widespread power outages are likely.

Officials also warned people to stay off the roads unless they have to.

“If you don’t need to drive, don’t get out on the streets,” said Liz Babson, director of the Charlotte Department of Transportation. “Conditions are not bad right now, but they will get worse.”

CMPD chief Kerr Putney urged Charlotteans to stay put.

“This is the time, the next two days, to stay in your house, spend time with your family,” said Putney.

Charlotte power outages pass 10,000 mark

Saturday, 8:45 a.m. As wind and rain from Florence increased, Duke Energy reported there were 10,360 customers without power in Mecklenburg County. That number is expected to rise as the storm dumps torrential rain and whips the region with gusty winds over the next two days.

Statewide, emergency officials said 813,519 North Carolina customers were without power as of 8:30 a.m., mostly centered on coastal counties. Another 110,000 customers were without power in South Carolina.

You can view Duke Energy’s live outage map, with local power outage locations, online here: https://www.duke-energy.com/outages/current-outages.

Roads closed, power lines down in parts of Charlotte

Saturday, 6:50 a.m. Early Saturday morning, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police reported that several major roads were already closed due to fallen trees and downed power lines. Those include outbound South Tryon Street at Southampton Road (power lines down), Nations Ford Road in both directions, near Archdale Drive (power lines down) and Margaret Wallace Road near U.S. 74 (tree and power lines down). Some traffic lights were also reported out on Independence Boulevard.

Driving conditions could deteriorate throughout the day as gusty winds and heavy rains increase.

As of 7 a.m., Duke Energy was reporting more than 6,000 customers without power in the Charlotte area. See more details about expected power outages here.

Florence remains a deadly threat, hurricane center says

Friday, 8 p.m.: Florence continued to pack winds of up to 70 mph and produce “life-threatening storm surges” along the Carolinas coast, the National Hurricane Center said in an updated advisory. “Catastrophic freshwater flooding” was still expected over parts of the Carolinas, according to the center. The storm was about 15 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach, motoring along at 3 mph.

‘Remain in safe shelter,’ Gov. Cooper urges North Carolinians

Friday, 7 p.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper signed Executive Order No. 55 to help get temporary housing, generators and trucks to stricken areas more quickly.

In a statement, Cooper also urged North Carolinians to “remain in safe shelter and be alert to advice from emergency professionals. Hazardous conditions caused by Florence have already taken three lives, and several additional deaths are under investigation.”

Cooper said the deaths were “devastating, and the friends and families of the victims remain in our prayers The fact is this storm is deadly. And we know we are days away from it ending.”

Florence strafes Rock Hill with sheets of rain

Friday, 6:45 p.m.: In Rock Hill’s Riverwalk neighborhood, on the banks of the already swollen Catawba, the advancing armies of Tropical Storm Florence strafed into the community in sideways sheets that soaked porches within seconds. Many of the residents had taken advantage of the earlier dry hours to tie down outdoor furniture and take down bird feeders. Kids enjoyed the school holiday with football and basketball games in the alleys, while other residents got in one last dog walk. All the extra-curriculars ended with the rain, and the entire neighborhood locked down for a long wet night.

Florence drops to tropical storm but still ‘life-threatening’

Friday, 5 p.m.: Florence was downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm with 70 mph maximum sustained winds, but “life-threatening” storm surges were expected to continue along the coast Friday night, the National Hurricane Center said in an updated advisory. “Catastrophic” freshwater flooding is expected in the Carolinas, the center warned.

Will Charlotte apartment complex go under again?

One small neighborhood will be put to a big test once the rain begins to fall as Florence moves into Charlotte over the weekend.

During a three-day deluge in August 2008 that dumped 11 inches on Charlotte via Tropical Storm Fay, one of the worst-hit areas was just off Monroe Road, where the flooding of Briar Creek left much of Doral and Cavalier apartments underwater and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

Since then, all of the Cavalier Apartments have been demolished, and half of the Doral Apartments are gone. They were purchased by the county using a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Mitigation Assistance program, aimed at reducing future flood losses.

Substitute housing wasn’t built: Instead the land – about 24 acres – is now open, made into an ecological sanctuary along Briar Creek.

However, the other half of the Doral Apartments — 132 units in all — is still there, and the modest complex is still mostly occupied. And “the majority of them are still in the floodplain area,” said Crystal Goode, lead project manager for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, which oversaw the design of the sanctuary land. “So they still are at risk, if we get a large-enough storm.”

Gail Stroyer, president of operations for Cavalier Management Company (which owns Doral), told the Observer she wrote a letter to residents that was emailed to them Thursday, and that it said “if we get 4 to 8 inches over a period of three to four days, that does not flood us. If we get a storm that sits over Doral for 6 hours, putting a inch of rain on us every hour, that’s more likely to flood us. ... An

Observer reporter tried to contact residents on Friday about how they were preparing for possible flooding, but was asked to leave by a staffer in the Doral leasing office.

Five dead so far from Florence

Friday, 3:15 p.m. Five people have been killed in North Carolina as a result of former Hurricane Florence, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported. No names have been released.

A mother and her infant died in Wilmington when a tree fell on their house, according to the newspaper.

In Lenoir County, a 78-year-old Kinston man was electrocuted while connecting extension cords in the rain, and a 77-year-old man was blown down by the wind, The News & Observer reported. A woman in Hampstead, Pender County, “died of an apparent heart attack” when debris prevented emergency crews from reaching her, according to the newspaper.

“Our hearts go out to the families of those who died in this storm,” Cooper said in a statement. “Hurricane Florence is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days. Be extremely careful and stay alert.”

USO helping stranded military members

Friday, 2:51 p.m.: The USO of North Carolina will serve dinner at 5:30 p.m. Friday to nearly 400 Coast Guard members and their families at the Crowne Plaza Charlotte Executive Park, 5700 Westpark Drive. The families were evacuated to Charlotte from military installations on the N.C. coast.

Volunteers at the USO of NC Charlotte center are providing toiletries, snacks, internet access and games to military members and their families who get stranded at Charlotte Douglas International Airport because of canceled flights due to the storm.

Across the state, the USO of NC is preparing to deploy its mobile center with service members as part of hurricane relief efforts. Donations: uso-nc.org.

Florence could break rainfall records

Friday, 2:45 p.m. Forecasters at the National Weather Service in Greer, S.C., said Friday that Hurricane Florence could bring the most rain Charlotte’s seen in a two-day period.

The storm is likely to break the record this weekend for rainfall recorded over two days. That record was set in 2008, for the two days ended Aug. 27, when Charlotte received 8.41 inches of rain. That was the result of a deluge from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay, which triggered flooding that damaged hundreds of homes and apartments.

Florence is expected to bring 10 to 15 inches of rain to the Charlotte region, with heavy precipitation starting Saturday. The storm could bring enough rain to come close to Charlotte’s one-day rainfall record of 6.88 inches, the NWS said.

Lowe’s donates $2 million to relief efforts

Friday, 12:22 p.m.: Mooresville-based Lowe’s said it is donating $2 million to help employees, customers and communities affected by Hurricane Florence across the Southeast.

The public can join the efforts by donating to the American Red Cross on Lowes.com.

To help in rebuilding over the next few weeks, Lowe’s also said it will distribute over 10,000 buckets full of vendor-donated products including rubber gloves, trash bags, flashlights, scrub brushes, dish soap and bug spray.

City, county offices will close Monday

Friday, 11:55 a.m. City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County government offices will be closed Monday due to the anticipated effects of Hurricane Florence. Offices closed early Friday, at noon, to allow employees to prepare.

“The safety of our community as well as the city and county employees is paramount,” officials said in a statement.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools canceled Monday

Friday, 11:45 a.m. After closing Thursday and Friday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will be out again Monday, school officials said.

“Our community remains in a declared official state of emergency by state and local leaders,” officials said in a statement. “Experts advise that the full impact of Hurricane Florence in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region will be most severe on Sunday, September 16 into Monday, September 17 and may include severe flooding, widespread power outages, downed trees, road closures and limited access to school buildings and facilities.”

The closure means another day off for the approximately 148,000 CMS students. The many day cares and other facilities linked to the CMS calendar will also be closed.

“CMS understands the wide impact of closing schools on families, students, staff and the community. The district’s first priority is to help keep everyone safe,” officials said. “This decision was made after consulting with weather, emergency preparedness and law enforcement experts and in coordination with City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County leaders.”

Read more about the decision to close and its consequences here.

As floods hit Charlotte, watch out for your car

Flooding - Moss Creek 08271503.jpg

About a dozen cars in the Moss Creek Village parking lot in Bluffton flooded or were in danger of flooding Aug. 27, 2015, following a powerful thunderstorm.

Suzanne Hobbs Submitted photo

Friday, 11:30 a.m. AAA is urging customers to move their vehicles to higher ground ahead of the possible flooding and wind that Hurricane Florence could bring.

Approximately 57 percent of drivers in the Carolinas have auto insurance policies that don’t cover flood damage, AAA officials said. The auto group recommends avoiding leaving cars parked under power lines or trees and instead parking cars on higher ground or in covered parking garages.

“Protecting your car is something Carolinians need to take seriously because it is difficult to start the rebuilding process after a hurricane without a means of transportation,” AAA Carolinas President Dave Parsons said in a statement Friday.

You can see here if you live in a flood-prone part of Charlotte.

CO poisoning a concern during major storms

Friday, 11:15 a.m.: According to the Carolinas Poison Center, carbon monoxide poisoning is a concern during major storms. CO can form when people burn fuels like gasoline, kerosene and wood without proper ventilation, according to the center.

The Poison Center recommends using generators only outside (and keeping them 20 feet from buildings), never using a gas stove or grill inside and having a CO detector with a battery backup up on hand.

Symptoms of CO poisoning are like the flu and include nausea, headaches and weakness.

Call 1-800-222-1222 if you suspect CO poisoning.

Bulk pickup is canceled in Charlotte for a while

Friday, 11:00 a.m. If you’re looking to have old furniture and other large items picked up in front of your house, you’ll have to wait a few weeks. The city of Charlotte has suspended its bulk item waste collection — responsible for picking up items like appliances, mattresses, box springs, lawn equipment — until Sept. 30 because of the storm and anticipated cleanup.

Charlotte’s airport doesn’t plan to close due to Florence

Friday, 10:52 a.m. Officials at Charlotte Douglas International Airport said Friday that while some flights have been canceled, the airport plans to remain open during Hurricane Florence, which is expected to bring high winds and torrential rain to Charlotte this weekend.

Workers have been preparing Charlotte Douglas for the possibility of severe weather. The airport has one runway, 5/23, that can be used to take off and land during strong crosswinds.

“We’ve removed anything that has the potential to blow around,” said Deputy Aviation Director Jack Christine. “We’ve spent a lot of time cleaning storm drains ... We don’t anticipate anything that will close the terminal facility itself.”

Some airports closer to the center of the storm have closed, such as those at Wilmington and Charleston. American Airlines has canceled about 100 flights at Charlotte Douglas, mostly those to coastal destinations where the airports are closed.

The airline has waived change fees for passengers who need to rebook travel during the storm, and that’s cut down on the number of passengers at Charlotte Douglas, American spokeswoman Crystal Byrd said. The airline’s Charlotte flights were just 27 percent full Friday, Byrd said. That’s well below the airline’s average domestic load factor of about 86 percent.

Read more about how air travel is being affected here.

Wells Fargo closing all N.C. branches for Florence

Friday, 10 a.m. Wells Fargo said Friday that it will close all of its North Carolina branches on Saturday in anticipation of Florence’s effects. Branches in the Charlotte region will close early on Friday as well, at 3 p.m. Western North Carolina branches will close at 4 p.m.

“The safety of team members and customers is Wells Fargo’s highest priority,” company officials said in a statement. ATMs will continue to function as long as they have power.

The bank will decide this weekend whether to reopen its branches on Monday. Read more here.

Latest track shows Charlotte still in line for flooding rains

093211_5day_cone_with_line_and_wind.png

The 8 a.m. Friday Hurricane Florence track.

Friday, 8:35 a.m. There’s little deviation in the National Hurricane Center’s 8 a.m. track for Florence, which shows the storm is expected to move south and west across South Carolina through Saturday before turning north and west into North Carolina.

The storm is expected to cross the Columbia, S.C., region on Saturday. Charlotte is in line for 10 to 15 inches of rain and potential tropical storm-force winds, the National Hurricane Center predicts.

Risk for flooding in Charlotte this weekend

093211_5day_cone_no_line_and_wind.png

The 5 a.m. Hurricane Florence track.

Friday, 8 a.m.

The National Weather Service’s Greer, S.C., office is predicting Charlotte will receive a massive deluge this weekend as Florence moves inland. That’s elevated the risk for flooding to “extreme” in Charlotte and the surrounding counties for Saturday and Sunday.

A flash flood watch will be in effect this weekend for most of the region. The Charlotte area could receive a foot or more of rain, the Weather Service is predicting.

Florence’s 5 a.m. track from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm moving across Columbia, S.C., on Saturday afternoon, before turning northwest and heading for North Carolina. That would bring it near the Charlotte region as a tropical storm or tropical depression, dumping heavy rain before moving into Tennessee and Virginia early Monday.

Florence drops to Cat 1, but still ‘life-threatening’

Thursday, 11 p.m.: Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane but was delivering “life-threatening storm surge” along the N.C. coast, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. Florence had 90 mph winds, and the “threat of freshwater flooding will increase” in the days ahead, according to the advisory. The storm was about 60 miles east of Wilmington.

Islamic Center opens doors to evacuees

Thursday, 9:24 p.m.: The Islamic Center of Charlotte, 1700 Progress Lane, tweeted that it is partnering with United Muslim Relief to provide fresh water and basic aid packs to evacuees and is “opening our doors as a shelter ... to help those in need.“

Charlotte braces for more rain than expected

Thursday, 8:21 p.m.: Charlotte’s airport can expect 10.83 inches of rain during Florence, according to the latest projected rainfall totals from the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C. That’s up significantly from Wednesday’s NWS estimate of 6.3 inches.

Areas to the south and east of Charlotte could see even more rain and flooding — 14.5 inches in Monroe, 13.67 inches in Concord, 14.7 inches in Albemarle and 18.46 inches in Anson County, said meteorologist Doug Outlaw of the National Weather Service in Greer, S.C.

Higher amounts also are forecast for cities to the west of Charlotte, with Gastonia at 9.64 inches, Lincolnton 8.78 inches and Shelby 6.8 inches.

The mountains should see far smaller amounts, according to Outlaw, with only 3.54 inches anticipated in Asheville.

Government offices to close at noon Friday

Thursday, 5:03 p.m.: City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County government offices will close at noon Friday ahead of the storm, the city and county announced in a joint news release.

CharMeck 311 and 911 emergency services will remain active. CharMeck 311 will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Storm emergency updates: http://charlottenc.gov/emergency/Pages/default.aspx .

Volunteers respond to call to deliver meals to shut-ins

Thursday, 4:52 p.m.: Friendship Trays, the nonprofit that provides meals for shut-ins, the elderly and people who can’t cook for themselves, was overwhelmed with help Thursday after putting out word on social media that they needed volunteer drivers, said Executive Director Lucy Carter Bush. So many people stepped up, they couldn’t answer all the messages.

“It was wild,” she said. “We got what we needed and then some.”

Friendship Trays was delivering both meals and emergency packs with canned goods, to make sure their clients could get through the weekend.

Monday is still up in the air, Bush said. Since no one knows how conditions will develop over the weekend, she doesn’t yet know if they’ll be able to make deliveries. If they can, they will need more volunteers, she said. They’ll post updates on the website, www.friendships.org, and through a recording on their phone line, 704-333-9229.

Mecklenburg County jail inmates allowed free calls

Thursday, 4:33 p.m.: Sheriff Irwin Carmichael approved a request from Global Tel Link Inc. to offer inmates two free 5-minute phone calls per day Thursday through Saturday.

“We know how important it is to get reassurances from loved ones that they are taking the necessary steps to prepare,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

Plenty of space at Red Cross shelters

Thursday, 4 p.m.: The Observer visited each of the Charlotte area’s five Red Cross shelters on Thursday, and all five had plenty of space available.

The busiest, at East Mecklenburg High School, had only about a quarter of its beds occupied at midday. Several shelters were almost empty Thursday.

All of the shelters accept pets, and by 4 p.m. Thursday, the North Mecklenburg High shelter was housing two dogs, two cats and a bearded dragon.

For previous live updates, go here.

Observer staff writers Cassie Cope, Michael Gordon and Katherine Peralta, and LaVendrick Smith contributed.

« Go back