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Tropical Storm Florence Moving Slowly Through Carolinas; Six Deaths Attributed to Tropical Storm Florence; Investigation Continues into Gas Explosions in Boston; Anonymous Accuser Claims Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Sexually Assaulted Her; Joe Biden may Announce Intentions for Possible Presidential Run in 2020; South Carolina Governor Announces Continuing Evacuation Orders for Horry County and Georgetown County. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired September 15, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: -- continues to dump on areas of both South and North Carolina. It is also moving further inland. And we're also starting to see pictures, evacuation orders in many areas are still in effect. But we're starting to see some of the pictures. There are calls for rescues, there are calls for help. I want to turn to Miguel Marquez who is in Carolina Beach. He has spent much of the last couple of days there. And Miguel, as I understand it, you have some new pictures of flooding in areas that we haven't seen yet.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are still reporting on this storm and that will not quit. I cannot believe almost 48 hours into this and we are still experiencing, they say it is a tropical storm, it doesn't sound all that serious. This is the effects. Let me show you the beach here at Carolina Beach. These are communities that survive on their beaches. There is an eight foot drop here, maybe a six foot drop here. There should be 30 or 40 feet of beach there. And that ocean is just coming right up to it. It has destroyed beaches for miles here all up and down the coach. These are communities that survive on their beaches so this is going to be a very longtime recovery.
There are trees, power lines, roofs, fences, walls, tons of small damage like that across a wide swathe of this area. Authorities now trying to go through, assess everything. There's also lots of flooding in the area as well, trying to assess everything and get the power back on. We see lots of crews from Duke Energy. We see lots of emergency services operators trying to get out there and figure out who is out there, how will they survive, and what do they need if anything, at this point.
The town of Carolina Beach is still under an evacuation order. They still haven't opened that bridge into town, can't figure out when they will do that yet. Until these winds come down and they can get people on and off the island safely they won't be doing that. Kure Beach just further and further south of us, they are still under evacuation order as well, have everything closed down.
It is just going to be a very, very long recovery for this place. And this storm just doesn't quit. It just keeps going. It is shocking. Erica? HILL: It just won't quit. That is for sure. Miguel, thank you. As
we look at it, let's update you on some of the troubles as well. Unfortunately we can't tell you the numbers up to six, six people, six deaths now official as related to this storm. That sixth death was just reported here in the state of South Carolina. More than 960,000 customers are without power in both states, about 150,000 of them are here in South Carolina. The rest, the vast majority, obviously in North Carolina.
The concerns about flooding, as Miguel pointed out, this rain isn't stopping, the water isn't stopping. But many of the issues will come in the days ahead as we wait to see not only where it floods as the storm moves inland but also as rivers begin to crest in the next three to five days.
There is flooding out there, though, do not be fooled in terms of that. Our Brian Todd is standing by in Onslow County, North Carolina, at an apartment complex that is dealing with some significant flooding. And I imagine, Brian, that those waters may have risen even since we just spoke last about a half an hour, 40 minutes ago.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They seem to have risen a little bit, Erica, and we are monitoring it very closely, because as you can see we're in the middle of a flooded out apartment complex. This is the web apartments in Onslow County just outside Jacksonville, North Carolina. Our photojournalist showing you just how in danger some of these are from completely over.
The water in back of this one unit has gone into the units. This one over here, closer to you, not quite clear if it's gone into the unit yet. It's right at about the windows and doors. But look at these cars here. These cars are basically unusable at this point, completely washed out. They had to pull several people out of this apartment complex.
We just spoke to David Cotton, the county manager for Onslow County. He said, look, the bottom line is this. We have not seen a flood like this in our collective memories, in our lifetimes. And this is kind of what he is talking about. As far as the eye can see back here in these apartment complexes, it is completely flooded out. When are these people going to be able to come back to their homes? We don't know. The emergency management officials here say that they've had to do about 30 rescue missions so far. They have more than 300 people in shelters. At least 200 of them made their way to the shelter one way or another in the last 24 hours, either getting rescued from places like this or trying to make their way themselves to the shelters.
But it is a very dangerous situation. Some people who wanted to hunker down, then realized this is what they were facing and needed to get out. The good news, Erica, is that they have a lot of great resources here helping pull these people out of these places. They have got three Coast Guard helicopters. They've got marine units from Camp Lejeune with high water amphibious vehicles. They've got a swift water rescue team from the state of Indiana here to help, plus local fire and EOC officials. [14:05:12] So a lot of resources being deployed. It looks like
they're going to need all of them today, Erica. And here's an anecdote that I got from these officials that I got not too long ago. They had a situation either overnight last night or early this morning where an ambulance came to one of these areas to get a cardiac arrest patient. They got the patient in the ambulance, and then the ambulance started to take on water. Luckily they had a swift water rescue team nearby, got those people out safely. But the first responders are really up against them right now, too. That's been the situation all throughout the Carolinas. We have been talking about that, first responders. We were in Wilmington yesterday, having to navigate streets where massive trees have come down on the streets, power lines down everywhere. That's the same here, only you've got all that and you've got high water. There's a chopper flying over, I'm not sure if it's a Coast Guard chopper or not, but there are three Coast Guard chopper units here, Erica, expecting these rescues.
HILL: Brian Todd with the latest for us there. We can hear that chopper. Brian, thank you.
I want to turn now to CNN's Ed Lavandera who is in Jacksonville, North Carolina. As we know Jacksonville really hit with some rough flooding. We began to see the start of it yesterday as we followed your path and some of the stories out of there. What are you seeing today?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is another one of those days where people are -- the rain has fallen off quite substantially, so that's good. But the problem is it has rained and it is still raining in other parts where those rivers are still coming out of its banks. Here you have might see here Misty Diaz (ph) who we spoke to a while ago, her and her family left this home over the course of the last hour. They've been packing up belongings. That water is about two to three inches away from going inside the home. When we first got here, it was six inches lower off the porch there to the home.
And let me show you exactly what they're dealing with here, Erica. Beyond the tree line over there is the new river. And this is an area that residents tell us they did not expect to flood. It has done well in past heavy storms. But the new river there has come out of its banks. And from 7:00 in the morning until now, this is how far the water has come. And that's why Misty Diaz (ph) and her family are leaving this house.
Just in that neighborhood, coast guard officials tell us they already rescued some 30 people over the course of the day. You might be able to hear those helicopters flying over us right now. There are still two in the air now in this neighborhood. So it is slow moving water and most people here in this neighborhood just simply standing and waiting to see exactly how all of this is going to unfold. There are already a number of homes in this particular neighborhood that have gone underwater. There's a subdivision over there that we haven't been able to figure out how to reach if we even can. Considering they're only getting over there with helicopters, that doesn't seem likely at this point. But all of this water just continues to creep up and creep up. And
residents here are wondering just exactly where it is going to stop. As people are coming in here real quick, Erica, let me just finish by showing you this. We saw this phenomenon in hurricane Harvey in Texas. And I show this to you because it is a real concern, it can be really treacherous for people out here. This little pile right here that you see, that is a fire ant pile. And that's what fire ants do in these flood waters, they come together and they just make these little islands.
I show you that because, number one, it is just bizarre to see. And number two for people who are coming in and out, trying to salvage things out of their homes and walking through these flood waters, you step in that, and it is an absolutely horrible experience. So anyway, that's one of the many things you see here.
Erica, before we leave you, the Coast Guard chopper, one of the two we're seeing flying around in this area as they continue to swirl around these neighborhoods here just north of Jacksonville, North Carolina, trying to pull out as many people who are trapped in their homes and want to figure out a way out this afternoon. Erica?
HILL: All right, Ed, thank you. Ed Lavandera there. I want to turn now to CNN's Scott McLean who is in Garden City Beach, South Carolina. And Scott, you have been making your way around the Myrtle Beach area, a little bit north of where we were earlier today, assessing some damage and the situation. What are you seeing in Garden City Beach?
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Erica. So we're about 10 miles south of where you are, just a little bit south of Garden City Beach inland. I am standing on what would normally be a beach but you can see the tide has come up, and combined with that storm surge and the waves it is approaching people's properties. You can see there's some stairs there that some people built to get out to the beach, and they are getting hit with some of those waves.
As you look out here on this pier here, I am told by some of the local residents who live here, one of the local residents who lives here, that those pilings at the end there are normally where low tide would be, and then high tide comes up usually about halfway through this pier. It is almost completely underwater, especially when these waves come up. Ken, just be careful, there's one hitting you now.
[14:10:14] And you can see, Erica, how high this foam is coming up right into this person's yard. Thankfully, not quite at their house just yet. I'm going to try to make my way down here. The reason why this is happening now and not initially when Florence came onshore is because initially the way that Myrtle Beach where we are is situated, initially the wind was actually pushing the waves offshore, creating a negative storm surge, meaning tied was even lower than it normally is. Now that we're on the back side of the storm, it is coming in even stronger than it would. We're nine or nine and a half feet above what would normally be the highest. This could be the third or fourth highest on record. Not quite a record, but still pretty scary for some people around here. We'll just swing around quickly, Erica, before we send it back and
show you how close it is to getting over these people's retaining walls. About another foot or two, and it would be there. High tide was about 30 minutes ago, maybe a little bit more than that. And so the good news is that it's only going to recede from now. So it seems like this area has dodged a bullet from what is now tropical storm Florence.
HILL: Scott McLean with the very latest for us from Garden City Beach, South Carolina.
Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is in the CNN Weather Center as we're watching all of this. Scott telling us there, Allison, the water is starting to recede a little bit, that's important. But the fact that there is still so much more water coming, that is what officials are watching, even here in Myrtle Beach. They're worried about the next few days, and whether this water could come up over roads and the bridges that are the access points into Myrtle Beach, for example.
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. And then the long term, Erica, as well now becomes the rivers, the creeks, the streams and things like that because that water has to go somewhere. And that's where it is likely going to end up, not just the water coming from the ocean but the water above. It all drains somewhere. We still have very heavy rain. The storm has now picked up speed by one mile an hour. It is now moving west at three miles per hour. That new information coming in at the top of the hour.
But some new information to also give you, Fayetteville police out of North Carolina now issuing mandatory evacuations for Cumberland County because here's why. The Little River at Manchester is expected to rise rapidly over the next several hours. In fact, they expect it to break the previous record by six feet. They're telling people get out, get out now. You have got to get out before we start to see that river rise.
And it is not the only one. In fact, we expect 20 of these rivers here to reach major flood stage in the next three to five days, and about 30 of them to reach moderate flood stage. And again, the reason for this is not just all of that storm surge that came in over the last 24 hours, but also the rainfall coming down.
You have got two very heavy bands, one that's just north of Wilmington and one that is just south of Wilmington. The rainfall in this area is coming down at about two to three inches an hour. That would be fine if you only got one hour's worth of rain. But we know a lot of places are getting far more than that. Already numerous locations are picking up over two feet of rain, including Swansboro. Over 30 inches has already fallen. That sets a brand record for the state of North Carolina for any tropical system to ever hit here.
And again, keep in mind, folks, it is still raining there. So that number is likely going to go up. For a lot of these places here on the map, we are still expecting widespread amounts of six to 12 inches to fall. But there could be some spots, Erica, where we could still pick up well in excess of a foot of rain on top of what we've already had.
HILL: Allison Chinchar with the very latest for us. Allison, thank you.
As you at home look at all of these pictures, you do not need to know anyone in the area to understand that they need your help and they will in the coming days. If you do want to help, CNN has vetted a number of organizations. You can find that information at CNN.com/Impact.
Stay with us. We're back with more in just a moment.
[14:18:28] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back. I'm Alex Marquardt in New York. We will get you right back to our storm coverage in just a moment. But first, we're getting more information about the string of deadly gas explosions, you can see those pictures there, that rocked several areas north of Boston. We're waiting on a briefing from the National Transportation Safety Board which is supposed to come up at around 4:00 p.m. eastern. In the meantime, the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, has declared a state of emergency in three towns. He has also taken the extraordinary step of replacing the company Columbia Gas as the utility company that is in charge of the recovery. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER, (R) MASSACHUSETTS: We took this step after it became clear to us that Columbia Gas was simply inadequately prepared to take the steps necessary to effectively manage relief efforts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: At this moment, at least one person has died, and around 8,000 people were forced to leave their homes. Officials say they cleared more than 50 streets in north Andover, but it could be some time before life returns to normal in that area. That's were we find CNN's Alison Kosik in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Alison, we've been looking at these incredible pictures, and in addition to the NTSB press conference at 4:00, I know we're also waiting for a briefing from local officials hopefully soon. But as we wait, what action have the authorities actually taken?
ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are waiting for more information, as you said. Right behind me is the podium, we are waiting for those state and local officials to come out and give us more information, because a lot of people really just want to know how this happened. And at this point, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which owns the gas lines involved in those explosions so far isn't giving a definitive reason for what has happened.
[14:20:09] Also on the ground here, NTSB officials collecting evidence, trying to figure out what triggered this cascade of explosions in three suburbs north of Boston. Those explosions killing one man, injuring more than a dozen people, destroying or damaging dozens of properties, including homes and businesses. And we are seeing that a lot of residents had to suddenly leave at a moment's notice in fear. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN O'CONNELL, ANDOVER RESIDENT: Frantic call from my wife, gas. Told her to get out of the house and get the car away. Next thing you know, the police came in and ordered everybody out of the house. Homes down the street were catching fire. By the time I got home, it was just a lot of confusion and chaos. It was actually scary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSIK: And as you can imagine, in a massive response like this, there are lots of moving pieces. One of those moving pieces is actually these teams of three people that are going through neighborhoods house by house. They include a utility technician, a first responder, and locksmith to get into houses and turn off the gas and also see it there's any lingering gas maybe sitting in attics and in basements. And they're using special equipment even outside to detect if there's gas in the air, because ultimately to get these people home, I'm talking about thousands of people who had to flee their homes, they can't go back until they are given the all clear. And even when they do go back, there isn't going to be any power on, or there's not going to be any gas. As far as power, we're not sure when that is going to be restored, and as far as gas, Alex, that could take weeks to be restored. Once again, we are waiting on a this news conference. Hopefully we'll get more information, and as soon as we do, we'll bring it to you. Alex?
MARQUARDT: Lots of questions for that pair of briefings coming up, foremost among them for those 8,000 people, when can we go home. Alison Kosik in Lawrence, Massachusetts, thanks very much.
Coming up, rescues under way as tropical storm Florence continues its slow churn across the Carolinas. Up next, we'll speak with one of the first responders who is helping victims caught in the disaster.
[14:26:51] HILL: Our continuing coverage of tropical storm Florence continues now. We are live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Let's get you up to speed on some more of what we are learning at this hour. We do have new evacuation orders which have been issued in North Carolina in Fayetteville further inland. We spoke with the director of communications for the city a short time ago. He said there are two areas specifically that have been targeted with that evacuation order, that they learned some lessons after Matthew and they want people to make sure that people stay safe as this moves further inland.
We can also tell you city in Fayetteville, as I mentioned, and also Wade, North Carolina also issuing evacuation orders for that very reason. There is much concern as this storm continues to move further inland, and of course as it just sits in the area where it has been now for the last two days for some folks. We can also tell you we've learned from the Coast Guard, they've
assisted in 50 air rescues in North Carolina. Some of them, some of our reporters have shared that information with you, including CNN's own Ed Lavandera of some of those rescues in Onslow County, North Carolina. And we're going to continue to monitor those efforts as well.
I want to bring in now Chris Woodby who is a travel nurse and joins us now from, Chris, I believe you're in New Bern, but correct me if I'm wrong there, an area that you just moved to a couple months ago?
CHRIS WOODBY, TRAVEL NURSE: That's right. I am a travel nurse with TeleMed, and we contracted with a hospital here in New Bern, but I actually live in Morehead City which was evacuated on Tuesday. Came to the hospital, and have been on shift ever since.
HILL: And what have you seen during the time you have been there in the hospital, and what are the conditions in the hospital?
WOODBY: The conditions are good at the hospital. Amazingly enough things are a little bit flooded in the back parking lot, but no real damage at all. The hospital is in good spirits. We've had a lot of our just employees in general just come in, put a smile on their face, and just all in the name of taking care of patients. It has been amazing.
HILL: So you're there working, and I know a lot of folks face this dilemma when they are dealing with a storm of this magnitude. You're there doing your job, providing help as first responders do and so many others. Your family, though, I know had to evacuate. How are they doing?
WOODBY: Yes, absolutely. My wife and my three children are back in Asheville, which is my hometown. They're safe and sound right now, and I'm here. And of course I am extremely worried about not being with them, and I didn't know my fate as of just a couple days ago. But as God would see fit, I'm safe and sound, as well as my co- workers.
HILL: And you mention that your home where you live in Morehead City, you were evacuated on Tuesday. Do you know much about the situation there?
[14:30:00] WOODBY: I do now. Right now, the latest updates that I got was that there is no entry into Morehead City via U.S. 70, and I do not know the condition of my residence there. We could more than likely have lost everything in that flooding when the hurricane came through.
HILL: That's a lot for you to think about in this moment, I imagine.
WOODBY: Absolutely. We have been busy here at the hospital. And we've had a lot to take care of and things like that. So I really just try to put it out of my mind to be able to just kind of work and will assess the situation afterwards. But I'm at least here at the hospital until Monday at 7:00. And we'll see at that point. HILL: All right, Chris, we appreciate you taking a little time to
join us. Best of luck with everything. Chris Woodby joining us there, thank you.
WOODBY: Thank you so much.
HILL: And our continuing coverage rolls on on the other side of this break. We also want to update you, we'll take at a look at some of the rescue efforts that are happening across North Carolina. Stay with us.
[14:35:35] MARQUARDT: Welcome back. We're going to turn now to the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. A decades old assault accusation against Kavanaugh is now threatening to impact his confirmation vote in the Senate. This is what we know. A woman still unidentified sent a letter to California Senator Dianne Feinstein accusing Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were both in high school in the early '80s. Feinstein redacted the woman's name and sent the letter to the FBI. Judge Kavanaugh is forcefully denying the allegations, but it comes at a crucial moment in this confirmation process.
So joining me now is our Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue. Ariane, what is Kavanaugh saying about these accusations. We know that he is denying them, but what effect could it have on his chances of joining the court?
ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: You're absolutely right. And we need to emphasize that this is an anonymous allegation, and it's for something that occurred 30 years ago. And the woman is declining to come forward. He denies it, but she's alleging that Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party. They were both in high school in the '80s, and she won't come forward. But she sent this letter to Dianne Feinstein, and of course Feinstein is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary.
And Feinstein said on Friday that the individual requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or to press the matter further. So what Feinstein did is she redacted the name and referred it to the FBI.
And Kavanaugh himself, he issued this strong statement denying the allegations. He said "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time." But in this letter, Alex, the woman alleges that Kavanaugh physically pushed her into a bedroom, and along with another male locked the door from inside, put on loud music. She alleges that the two teens were drunk, and one point Kavanaugh was on top of her with a hand over her mouth and she feared she was in danger in that moment. She never says whether she reported it to authorities, but she does say she sought medical attention. And we don't have many details on that.
But the Republicans here are furious because they know that this letter was sent back in July, and Dianne Feinstein didn't bring it up at hearings, didn't bring it up in her private meetings, and in fact just referred it just after the close of the hearings very close to the vote which is supposed to happen next week. His friends were is disbelief. I talked to one of them who said Kavanaugh has been vetted five times by the FBI. And on the other hand, some are angry with Dianne Feinstein for not bringing it forward. But others say, look, she was in a tough spot. The woman did not want to come forward with the allegation. And again, Brett Kavanaugh, he issued that statement, really denying this very, very strongly, Alex.
MARQUARDT: Really incredible accusations and a real turn in what has been a very dramatic confirmation process. Ariane de Vogue in Washington, thanks very much.
So could tonight be the night that we learn that former Vice President Joe Biden is running for president? This evening Biden is due to speak at the Human Rights Campaign national dinner in Washington, D.C., and that's the same dinner that Biden spoke at three years ago as he considered getting into the 2016 presidential race. CNN political reporter Arlette Saenz has been following this story and all things Biden. Arlette, obviously speculation rampant over Biden's potential renewed presidential ambitions. Experts like yourself looking for any sign in the tea leaves. Is there any indication we could hear something related to a run in 2020 tonight?
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Alex, he has been very careful not to discuss 2020, especially this year as they are trying to keep the focus on the 2018 midterms. So far, the vice president himself has said he is hoping to have that decision about 2020 by January. Those close to him that I spoke with said that that is the same as what he tells them in private.
But this even certainly gives them an opportunity to stay connected to a key Democratic base. You'll remember the vice president was the first vice president to come out in support for same-sex marriage. That's a move that had to nudge President Obama along a little bit to announce his own support.
He has also stayed very involved in the LGBT community since leaving office. Just last month his foundation announced this initiative called As You Are that's trying to promote family acceptance for LGBTQ youths. But certainly a lot of folks in that room and other places are watching and waiting for any little signs that he might be giving about a 2020 run.
MARQUARDT: Right. And Biden has certainly been more vocal than Obama has since President Trump came into office, and we do know that Biden is planning to be active in these next few weeks, ahead of midterm elections. What do we know about his campaign schedule, who he is stumping for, and what clues it might offer for 2020?
SAENZ: Alex, right now his campaign schedule is still coming into shape. They're sketching out their plans, trying to keep things flexible so they can determine where and with whom he is needed the most. But one trip that we know about, that first week in October he will be heading out to California and Nevada to do fundraisers as well as some public events, including with a Democratic Senate candidate over there, Jacky Rosen out in Nevada. Democrats see a real pickup opportunity in that race that she's running against Senator Dean Heller.
But we also expect to see him in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin. Things those states all have in common, they're states that Donald Trump turned from blue to red back in 2016. But two states that we will not see Vice President Joe Biden in before November 6th are Iowa and New Hampshire. His team is very cautious. They don't want to have any situation where he may be with a candidate and speculation turns from the candidate to his presidential ambitions, so for now, Iowa and New Hampshire aren't going to be seeing Joe Biden.
MARQUARDT: All right, Arlette, I know you'll be watching closely tonight and going forward. Thanks. And a warm welcome to CNN. Great to have you with us.
SAENZ: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: All right, well, setting new records in North Carolina as tropical storm Florence continues to pummel the coastline and beyond. More from the ground, that's coming up next.
[14:43:16] HILL: South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster is just updating us on the situation in South Carolina. Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we ask anything, according to his will, we have the petitions that we desire of him. Let us pray. Almighty and all wise God, we thank you so very much for being consistent and faithful to us. We give you glory today for everyone that is working toward a conclusion to this matter. There's nobody like you anywhere, and we need you more now than we've ever needed you before. Families need you. First responders need you. Those of us that are caught in the grip of a storm, whether it is a natural storm or a spiritual one, we need you.
So today even those that have suffered loss, I pray now that you will dry their eyes and comfort them in that loss. You're able to do anything but fail. So right now we give you glory because your credit is good with us. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
GOV. HENRY MCMASTER, SOUTH CAROLINA: National Weather Service.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, governor. Good afternoon. Heavy rains continue across northeast South Carolina, with catastrophic flooding still ongoing across much of southeast North Carolina this afternoon. Tropical storm Florence has weakened throughout the day and has maximum sustained winds of 40 miles an hour. The center of Florence is currently located about 40 miles south of Florence, South Carolina, in Williamsburg County. It's still moving very slowly, only to the west at about three miles an hour. So it has really been a slow move since it came to South Carolina last evening.
[14:45:00] Looking at the highest wind gusts we've seen so far in South Carolina, the highest we still have seen is 61 miles per hour at Myrtle Beach International Airport and in Marion. And then after that, we have some 60 miles an hour reports in Florence at the Grand Strand Airport, even over into the midlands, 54 miles an hour at Shaw, and 53 miles an hour down at Charleston, in low country.
The tropical storm warning was cancelled early this morning for Charleston tri-county area, remains in effect elsewhere in the Grand Strand, Pee Dee, eastern and central midlands. Tropical storm force wind gusts of 40 to 50 miles an hour are still possible mainly into this evening in the tropical storm warning area, which should then diminish on Sunday as remnants of Florence finally move northwest and out of the state.
Looking at observed rainfall amounts, certainly North Carolina has had significant flash flooding and rain flow amounts are very extreme up there. A lot of areas between 25 and 30 inches of rainfall, and the highest we have seen so far is 31 inches in Oriental which is in Pamlico County. So there's a tremendous amount of rainfall.
For us by no means is the risk for flash flooding over. In fact additional rainfall amounts of eight to 12 inches are expected from Rock Hill to Florence to Myrtle Beach and areas northeast of there, with an additional two to six inches expected farther southwest into the I-26 corridor.
The potential for heavy rains will continue through tomorrow and into the first part of the upcoming week. There's still potential for deadly flash flooding, again in parts of the Grand Strand, Pee Dee, midlands, and upstate where flash flood watches remain in effect. We expect major flooding over the next several days in the Pee Dee River Basin, that including the great Pee Dee, little Pee Dee, Lumber, Waccamaw, and Lynches River due to rainfall occurring in the North Carolina watersheds. Residents are advised to take preparedness actions now and stay connected to local emergency management for evacuation guidance. We are continuing to monitor rainfall amounts across the state to assess additional flooding impacts. Thank you.
MCMASTER: Thank you, John. Ladies and gentlemen, as you know from the beginning since we have been watching for this storm and hurricane, it has been most unpredictable. But what has been predictable instead is our concern about heavy rain and the flooding, and that is on course for what we have been anticipating all along.
We have this morning issued at 11:00, removed the evacuation order for the evacuation zones in Charleston County, Berkeley County, Dorchester County and for Edisto Beach, which had continued under the zone evacuation in Carleton County. They came out from under the evacuation order at noon today, Charleston, Berkley, Dorchester, and Edisto Beach.
That means that the evacuation order is still in effect for evacuation zones in two counties, two counties only, that is Horry County, the zones there, and Georgetown County, the zones there. The school closures and the state office closures are still in effect in Horry County and Georgetown County. That is the entire county. Again, all school closures except those in Horry County and Georgetown County are now immediately returned to the local officials.
All of these orders, of course, are done in close concert and constant communication with the state officials, the county offices, municipal offices and the emergency personnel. Also, all state offices that have been previously closed, all state offices previously closed will be open for business on Monday. So I'll say again -- evacuation order is still in effect for the evacuation zones, all of them in Horry County and Georgetown Counties, and that does include those entire county. However, school closures and state office closures are still in effect in the entire counties of Horry and Georgetown. Again, all school closures except those in Horry and Georgetown Counties are now, right now, immediately returned to the local school authorities, and all state offices previously closed will be open for business on Monday.
I want to say again this has been an exercise in professionalism by people all over the state, including volunteers and the citizens themselves.
[14:50:00] We've had help from nine different states as well as President Trump's involvement of his administration has been as heavy as it has ever been in South Carolina. And we have a great team here in South Carolina. And now we will proceed on with reports from some of these team members, starting with General Livingston.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, governor. All of team South Carolina is now turning to wellness checks and doing reconnaissance for search and rescue. We'll be actively patrolling the coast. DNR will be on the rivers. We already have our first flights from the Coast Guard and from National Guard out looking to see if anybody needs any help. We continue to coordinate with our Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and FEMA partners to prepare for floods that are coming and those consequences. And we are repositioning other assets to be able to handle that.
I think as we look, right now, we have had no calls for rescue. And that is a good thing because I think the governor's evacuation order helped that. We would rather evacuate than rescue.
HILL: You have just been listening to an update there in the state of South Carolina. You just heard they said no calls for rescue.
Here's what we can tell you. A number of the evacuation orders have been lifted in South Carolina, except for the evacuation zones in Horry County and Georgetown County. So this includes the area where we are right now in Myrtle Beach, north of us, on into Horry County. Those evacuation orders for those zones are still in effect. All state offices, we're told, will open Monday. Schools will be open as well, except for those, again, in those evacuation zones.
But the governor is very clear that the threat is not over here, talking about some areas, including areas of Horry County that could get another eight to 12 inches of rain, the fact that there are still significant wind gusts that are lashing at several areas of the state. There are flash flood watches in effect. There's a lot of concern about the Lumber, the Waccamaw, and Pee Dee Rivers and those basins and where they will meet and flooding in the coming days. So again, as we've heard from the governor of North Carolina as well, we're hearing from South Carolina and from local officials here in the state that the concern is going to be in the coming days for potential flooding as these rivers begin to crest. One area that is watching this very closely, Lumberton, North Carolina, which is where we find CNN's Polo Sandoval. And one of the reasons, of course, Polo, that they're watching it so closely as they remember very clearly what happened just two years ago after Matthew and some of that damage they have still not recovered from, Polo.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, just about everybody we have been speaking clearly remembers what Matthew caused here in Lumberton, especially with respect to public utilities. This is the water supply. About five gallons of water in that giant tank. Days ago city officials basically raided this barrier around it with concrete barriers, tarps, soil. They want to keep water from reaching here. What happened two years ago, the water flooded this entire facility. People had to wait up to 30 days before they had water service.
So not only is that happening, but also they're receiving all sorts of support and help, including from National Guard. You see them lined up here. We are told that they're going to be heading to what's considered a very vulnerable part of the city where Lumber River basically flooded parts of the city two years ago. We have seen preparations. They have been happening for the last several days. Officials on the ground, Erica, tell me that they are expecting catastrophic flooding in the coming days. We spent all day today on the Lumber River, at least on the banks of the Lumber River. It is steadily rising. It is expected to peak higher than what people here experienced in October of 2016. Yes, there are people who have evacuated their homes. And I personally saw there are still folks near the river that are choosing to stay put. At this point, authorities saying that is not smart.
HILL: All right, Polo Sandoval with the latest for us there.
Just to give you a sense where we stand at this hour, we know that there are more than 960,000 customers across both South and North Carolina that are without power as a result of this storm. The winds, the rain, they continue. This storm is only moving about three miles per hour. It is just sitting on the area. More and more rain for areas that cannot take any more.
And as we mentioned so many times, but it is important to reiterate, the concern is also in the coming days, the flooding that will come, the rivers that will crest, some of them not until even Wednesday. We'll be watching all of that very closely.
[14:55:00] The official death toll has risen to six for this storm. We learned of that sixth death here in the state of South Carolina a little bit earlier today.
What we can tell you there is more rain on the way. But there are also a number of officials and also teams from across the country who are in the area to help. We're going to continue to update you on those rescue efforts. The Coast Guard sending in some 50 air rescues in North Carolina alone. Our coverage continues of tropical storm Florence on the other side of this break.