CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – The howling west flank of Hurricane Dorian soaked the Carolinas on Thursday, flooding coastal towns, downing trees and whipping up occasional tornadoes a couple of days after reducing parts of the Bahamas to rubble.
In low-lying parts of the historic city of Charleston, South Carolina, floodwaters rose to a foot (30 cm) or more. John Rivers, 74, and his three children were among the few to be seen in the streets on Thursday morning as one of the largest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded drew closer. They cleared drains of branches, leaves and debris, using a shovel, a rake and their bare hands.
“We’re giving the water somewhere to go,” Rivers said, sheltering temporarily from the driving rain and gusts of wind under a covered walkway. His daughter Caroline, 12, pulled off her rubber boots one at a time, emptying a stream of water from each. “I see this as a good life lesson for my kids,” Rivers said.
Officials said Thursday afternoon that more than 7 inches (18 cm) of rain had fallen in parts of Charleston.
Dorian’s eye was about 45 miles (75 kilometers) southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Thursday evening, wavering in strength between a Category 2 and 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale. It had maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour and crawled northeast not much faster than the typical jogger.
Life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds remain a threat for much of the coast of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, the National Weather Service said.
Governors in the region declared states of emergency, closed schools, opened shelters, readied national guard troops and implored residents to take warnings seriously, as fresh images of the devastation wrought by the storm in the Bahamas earlier this week circulated in the media.
At least 70,000 Bahamians needed immediate humanitarian relief after Dorian became the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.
In the Carolinas alone, more than 900,000 people had been ordered to evacuate their homes. It was unclear how many did so.
In Kill Devil Hills, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Mark Jennings decided to ignore the order, lining his garage door with sandbags and boarding up his home with plywood.
The retired firefighter planned to stay put with his wife and two dogs, saying: “We are ready to go. If something happens, we can still get out of here.”
Dorian whipped up at least three tornados in the region, officials said. One in North Carolina damaged scores of trailers in a camp ground in Emerald Isle, but no one was injured, North Carolina’s News & Observer reported.
At least four storm-related deaths in the United States have been reported. Three people died in Orange County, Florida, during storm preparations or evacuation, according to the Orange County mayor’s office. In North Carolina, an 85-year-old man fell off a ladder while barricading his home for Dorian, the governor said.
More than 210,000 homes and businesses were without power in South Carolina and Georgia early on Thursday, according to local electric companies.
Reporting by Nick Carey in Charleston, South Carolina, and Amanda Becker in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Peter Szekely, Matt Lavietes and Scott DiSavino in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and Rosalba O’Brien