North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper opened his news conference Saturday morning with a warning to residents that Tropical Storm Florence isn’t over and flood waters will only get worse.
“The flood danger from this storm is more immediate today than when it made landfall 24 hours ago,” Cooper said. “We face walls of water. More people now face a threat than when the storm was offshore. Flood waters are rising, and if you aren’t watching them, you are at risk.”
Thousands across the state have evacuated and Cooper said those people need to stay where they are.
“If you are safe, stay put. Don’t go back until this storm passes and you get the official all-clear,” he said.
Cooper confirmed that five deaths have been reported as storm-related in the state and said that more are being investigated.
“Loss of life is heartbreaking,” he said. “Every hour, first responders are preventing more deaths.”
Two deaths have been reported in Lenoir County and another two in New Hanover County — a mother and her infant — and one death was reported in Pender County.
According to the 10 a.m. update from North Carolina Emergency Management, more than 814,000 people across the state are without power. The number dipped Saturday morning from Friday night’s total, but the number of outages surged Saturday morning.
President Trump approved the Federal Disaster Declaration for a number of eastern North Carolina counties, which will allow recovery teams to get to work.
Although the focus of national media coverage has been on the southeast coastal area of North Carolina and the Sandhills, the mountains will also see torrential rains, Cooper said.
“Mountain areas can expect flooding and potential landslides starting tonight. Areas that never experienced flooding before may experience it now,” he said.
The governor urged residents, especially those in southeast North Carolina, to not go out unless they have to.
“You may put yourself at risk or impede rescue efforts. Use common sense and be safe,” he said.
A number of roads in the Sandhills and eastern parts of the state have already been flooded or will be flooded as the storm continues.
North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary James Trogdon said conditions aren’t nearly as bad as they will get in the coming hours and days.
“Conditions across southern and eastern North Carolina continue to worsen. Highway closings have happened. Highway Patrol is assessing detour routes now,” he said. “Numerous counties have several primary roads closed. Sixty total primary roads have been closed.”
Trogdon also said that the clearing of debris is underway in some areas.
Some roads that are passable now won’t be later today, he said.
“Roads open today may be closed this afternoon. Do not travel east of [Interstate] 95 or south of U.S. 70. Conditions are hazardous and will continue to worsen,” Trogdon said.
North Carolina State Highway Patrol Col. Glenn McNeill said troopers have been busy since Florence came ashore.
“The North Carolina State Highway Patrol continues to respond to trees and power lines blocking the road. Since last night, 82 calls for service and 56 collisions have been responded to,” he said. “None of these have resulted in a fatality.”
McNeill also reminded people about how to handle intersections without power.
“Treat all intersections that do not have power as a four-way stop,” he said.
Cooper ended by saying that North Carolinians should “avoid complacency.”
“Even though the storm has been downgraded, the rainfall will still be epic.”