North, South Carolina cope with wet misery left by Hurricane Florence

Florence’s strong winds may be dropping, but heavy rain and floodwaters are bringing wet misery to much of North and South Carolina. Here are snapshots of people struggling to cope in the aftermath of the powerful storm that made landfall as a hurricane on Friday:

Police helped Debbie Covington’s elderly parents leave their home in a low-lying neighborhood of Cheraw, South Carolina, early Sunday and shelter at Covington’s house on higher ground next door.

Several backyards were flooded by afternoon, swollen with rainwater that was running downhill. Soaking wet and without shoes, Covington was nervously watching the muddy water rushing nearby, wondering if they needed to seek shelter elsewhere. She had just run an errand and had some trouble returning home.

“I was driving the truck and everywhere I went, I couldn’t get here,” she said. “One way some trees were down. Another was blocked by water.”

Still, Covington said she planned to wait a little longer before evacuating.

“We’re OK right now, as long as it doesn’t get a lot worse,” Covington said.

Around the corner from Covington’s house, a vacant lot was underwater with two heavy backhoes used in construction and a truck submerged to the tops of their tracks and tires. A portable toilet bobbed in the water, leaning at an angle.

Samantha Graham’s house sat on higher ground nearby, but still had water seep into her basement and soak the carpet.

“It’s a lot of water,” Graham said as she walked her dog and looked at the flooded yards at the bottom of the hill. “Hopefully it doesn’t cross the road more than it already has.”

Three straight days of rain– sometimes pausing, but sometimes pouring – brought floodwaters Sunday to the doorsteps of Mildred Smith and her niece, Jovanaka Smith, who live across the street from each other in the town of Bennettsville in northeastern South Carolina.

First, Mildred Smith fled her own home, wading across Talon Drive through the muddy water as she leaned on grandson for support.

“I almost drowned myself leaving my house,” she said. “It was more than knee deep.”

Then the water kept rising and reached the top step to Jovanaka Smith’s front porch. Finally a knock came at the door. A crew of firefighters wearing rubber waders were going door-to-door, encouraging residents to leave. Finally, both women agreed to go.

They didn’t evacuate far. The women were left on dry ground at relative’s home two doors down. From there, they watched and waited for the water to recede.

“The rain has ceased,” said Mildred Smith. “So I figure soon I’ll be going back across the street.”

On a country road just east of Goldsboro and two state prisons evacuated earlier this week ahead of expected flooding, Zack Lollar watches drivers make the tough decision whether their trucks are high enough to ford the high water or turn around.

The road Sunday was flooded about a mile away from the Neuse River’s usual bank.

Lollar is watching how far the river floods. His home’s interior was flooded by more than a foot of water during Hurricane Matthew two years ago. Afterward, his family received Federal Emergency Management Agency money to raise the ranch house onto a new base of concrete blocks about four feet off the ground to prevent a repeat of flooding damage, said Lollar, 24.

“The house will be all right, but I don’t want to get stuck out here,” he said. “Got nothing else to do but watch the water rise.'”

When he heard a Category 4 hurricane was headed for North Carolina, possibly affecting his home in Goldsboro, Eugene Johnson and his wife packed their 4-year-old son into their car and headed west, ending up in Jackson, Tennessee.

After hearing that the storm’s force had diminished, Johnson drove nine hours through the night to arrive at his townhouse near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base early Sunday.

“I heard the storm was over with and wanted to check my house, make sure everything was all right. There’s a bunch of trees down and stuff, but that’s about it,” Johnson said.

Back in the neighborhood that suffered extensive flooding two years ago after Hurricane Matthew, he pushed aside the sandbags pinned across the front door and found the electricity happily intact.

He left solidly in place the protective barriers meant to keep potential flooding from rising under the garage door or back slider.

Johnson said he wanted to get home while Florence was still in South Carolina and before it made its predicted northerly hook over the Appalachian Mountains that separate the two states.

“I felt the storm was leaving, I heard it went down to South Carolina. So I figured if I leave now I ain’t got to worry about running into it because it was going to the mountains and Asheville. I’m like, beat the clock.”

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