Part of the Starlite Motel is washed away in the aftermath of flooding from Hurricane Florence in Spring Lake, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The Latest: Last place for Florence's floods gets ready

September 20, 2018 - 5:23 pm

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — The Latest on Florence (all times local):

5:20 p.m.

Officials in the place where much of the floodwaters from Hurricane Florence will reach the Atlantic Ocean are preparing for a flood like they have never seen before.

Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said Thursday it is too early to know exactly how high the water will get or how much land will be flooded starting next week.

Water from five different rivers flow through the county to the ocean.

Hemingway says in the worst-case scenario, more than 10 percent of the county's 61,000 residents might have to evacuate. Flooding could cut off U.S. Highway 17, the main road north out of Georgetown.

Hemmingway says officials should know more by this weekend.

Authorities planned to start handing out 15,000 sandbags Friday.

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5:20 p.m.

Officials from several state agencies are urging motorists not to travel in areas of southeastern North Carolina because many roads remain impassable due to flooding and road conditions which continue to change.

The N.C. Highway Patrol and others say travel is not recommended in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, western Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett, Hoke, southern Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, New Hanover, Pender, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland and southern Wayne counties.

Patrol commander Col. Glenn McNeill Jr. says that while some routes are starting to open, motorists should avoid travel in flooded areas unless necessary and should never drive on flooded roads.

Officials say that GPS systems are less reliable in the aftermath of a hurricane when conditions are frequently changing. As such, motorists should avoid completely relying on their GPS systems for roadway information as these systems may re-route them to a road that is closed.

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4:05 p.m.

At least 41 deaths have now been attributed to Hurricane Florence.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesman Keith Acree says four additional deaths were reported Thursday to the state and occurred in Duplin County. He did not release further details about the deaths.

The death toll in North Carolina now stands at 31. The other deaths occurred in South Carolina and Virginia.

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4:05 p.m.

Utility workers continue to work to restore power to North Carolina residents who lost electricity due to Hurricane Florence.

North Carolina's electric cooperatives reported Thursday statewide outages have dropped to about 38,000, down from a historic high of 326,000 on Saturday.

Duke Energy reported more than 70,000 customers without power in southeastern North Carolina. Of those, more than a third, or about 24,500, are in New Hanover County, which includes the city of Wilmington.

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1:45 p.m.

Hundreds of roads in North Carolina remain closed due to the effects of former Hurricane Florence.

The N.C. Department of Transportation said on its Twitter page Thursday that nearly 750 roads are still closed. At one point as many as 2,200 were closed.

The closures include sections of Interstate 40 and Interstate 95. Also, U.S. Highway 258 in Kinston was closed Thursday due to flooding, and the department said drivers should plan for U.S. Highway 70 to be closed as the Neuse River continues to rise.

U.S. 70 is one of the major routes from Raleigh to the coast.

The department also said U.S. 421 at the New Hanover County line is now closed.

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1:45 p.m.

Major flooding on North Carolina's Little River earlier this week swallowed buildings and forced evacuations. Now that waters have receded, property owners along its banks are returning to survey the damage.

The destruction brought by the flood was evident Thursday in Spring Lake, North Carolina, a town of 13,000 near Ft. Bragg. The banks were littered with bricks and debris from a motel that collapsed after flooding swept the earth out from under it.

Next door, a convenience store owner inspected damage to his shop where turbulent floodwater had knocked down shelves and left silty mud on the walls and floor.

Heavy rain from Hurricane Florence earlier this week caused the Little River to swell well beyond its banks.

Before National Weather service gauges measuring water levels stopped working, it had reached 36 feet (10 meters), a record-breaking major flood.

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1:45 p.m.

Many groups are helping to feed victims of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, but one stands out for the sheer volume of meals it has distributed: World Central Kitchen.

The chairman of the New Hanover County commissioners says the nonprofit organization came to Wilmington four days before the storm. He says it has provided 90,000 meals so far for shelters, first responders, the National Guard and the people working in the county's emergency operations.

Chairman Woody White said the group has started bringing meals into communities via food trucks. White says World Central Kitchen's work has been "remarkable to witness."

Celebrity chef Jose Andres founded the nonprofit, which is best known for serving more than 1 million meals last year in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

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1 p.m.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster says the state's financial losses from Florence are estimated at more than $1.2 billion.

McMaster provided the damages estimates Thursday in a letter to the state's congressional delegation.

Among the breakdowns included in McMaster's letter is an estimated $125 million hit to South Carolina's agriculture industry. The governor noted that some of the estimates were based on damage resulting from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

McMaster has requested federal disaster-recovery funds be made available for 23 of South Carolina's 46 counties.

He wrote the damage from Florence in the northeastern area of the state "will be catastrophic, surpassing anything recorded in modern history."

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10 a.m.

Duke Energy has activated a high-level emergency alert at a retired coal-fired power plant near Wilmington, North Carolina, as floodwaters from the nearby Cape Fear River overtopped an earthen dike and inundated a large lake.

Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Thursday that the dam containing Sutton Lake appears stable and they are monitoring the situation with helicopters and drones to react to what was called "an evolving situation."

The lake is a former cooling pond at the L.V. Sutton Power Station and is adjacent to three large coal ash dumps. A landfill at the site ruptured over the weekend, spilling enough material to fill 180 dump trucks. Coal ash contains arsenic, mercury and other toxic heavy metals.

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8:30 a.m.

A section of Interstate 95 in South Carolina has been closed because of flooding.

The Department of Public Safety said Wednesday evening that the highway was closed in both directions at the 175 mile marker because of high water levels at the bridges crossing the Great Pee Dee River. There are detours available for local traffic.

The decision to close the road comes less than 12 hours after the department had reopened a 9-mile (14-kilometer) stretch of the highway near the North Carolina state line, which had meant the entire highway was open in the state.

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1 a.m.

Hurricane Florence is still wearing out the Carolinas, where residents have endured an agonizing week of violent winds, torrential rain, widespread flooding, power outages and death.

Frustration and sheer exhaustion are building as thousands of people wait to go home seven days after the storm began battering the coast.

Florence is blamed for at least 37 deaths. That includes those of two women who drowned when a sheriff's van taking them to a mental health facility was swept off a road.

President Donald Trump visited North and South Carolina on Wednesday, saying the government will be there to help.

But evacuee and college student Evan Jones says he's just ready for it all to be over. In his words: "I'm trying to get it all out of my head."

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