U.S. states from Minnesota to Mississippi to reopen despite health warnings

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. states from Minnesota to Mississippi this week prepared to join other states that have eased coronavirus restrictions to try to revive their battered economies, although some business owners voiced reluctance in the face of health warnings.

Colorado, Montana and Tennessee were also set to allow some businesses deemed nonessential to reopen after being shut for weeks even as health experts advocated for more diagnostic testing to ensure safety.

Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina previously restarted their economies following weeks of mandatory lockdowns that have thrown millions of American workers out of their jobs.

The number of known U.S. infections kept climbing on Monday, topping 970,000 as the number of lives lost to COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus, surpassed 54,800.

Public health authorities warn that increasing human interactions and economic activity may spark a new surge of infections just as social-distancing measures appear to be bringing coronavirus outbreaks under control.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said in a Twitter message late on Sunday that he would announce a roadmap for “responsibly reopening” the state at a Noon ET (1600 GMT) news conference on Monday.

Although unprecedented stay-at-home orders have put many businesses in jeopardy, many owners have expressed ambivalence about returning to work without more safeguards.

‘I WOULD STAY HOME’

“I would stay home if the government encouraged that, but they’re not. They’re saying, ‘Hey, the best thing to do is go back to work, even though it might be risky,’” Royal Rose, 39, owner of a tattoo studio in Greeley, Colorado, told Reuters.

The state’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis, has given the green light for retail curbside pickup to begin on Monday. Hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors may open on Friday, with retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters to follow.

Business shutdowns have led to a record 26.5 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits since mid-March and the White House has forecast a staggering jump in the nation’s monthly jobless rate.

President Donald Trump’s economic adviser Kevin Hassett told reporters on Sunday the jobless rate would likely hit 16% or more in April, and that “the next couple of months are going to look terrible.”

On Monday, White House adviser Peter Navarro said the Trump administration is focusing on protocols to keep U.S. factories open as the country grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, including screening workers for potential cases.

“You’re going to have to reconfigure factories,” Navarro told Fox News. “You’re going to have to use things like thermoscanners to check fever as they come in.”

Trump was scheduled to hold a video call with the country’s governors on Monday afternoon before the White House coronavirus task force’s daily briefing.

The rise in the number of U.S. cases has been attributed in part to increased diagnostic screening. But health authorities also warn that testing and contact tracing must be vastly expanded before shuttered businesses can safely reopen widely.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Nicholas Brown and Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Maria Caspani; Editing by Howard Goller)

 

Democrats turn to Nevada, South Carolina after Sanders’ New Hampshire win

By John Whitesides and Amanda Becker

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) – Democrats vying for the right to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump turned their focus to Nevada and South Carolina after Bernie Sanders solidified his front-runner status with a narrow victory in New Hampshire, with Pete Buttigieg close behind him.

While Sanders, a U.S. senator from neighboring Vermont, and Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, finished first and second in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary respectively, the contest also showed the growing appeal of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who placed third after surging over the past few days.

Two Democrats whose fortunes have been fading – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Vice President Joe Biden – limped out of New Hampshire, finishing fourth and fifth respectively amid fresh questions about the viability of their candidacies.

New Hampshire was the second contest in the state-by-state battle to pick a Democratic nominee to face Trump, a Republican, in the Nov. 3 election. Sanders and Buttigieg finished in a virtual tie in the first contest last week in Iowa and won an equal number of delegates – who formally vote at the party’s convention in July to select a nominee – in New Hampshire, according to early projections.

The campaign’s focus now begins to shift to states more demographically diverse than the largely white and rural kickoff states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The next contest is on Feb. 22 in Nevada, where more than a quarter of the residents are Latino, followed a week later by South Carolina, where about a fourth are African-American.

After that, 14 states, including California and Texas, vote in the March 3 contests known as Super Tuesday, which will also be the first time voters see the name of billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on the Democratic presidential ballot.

Democrats must decide whether their best choice to challenge Trump would be a moderate like Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Biden or Bloomberg – or a candidate further to the left like Sanders or Warren.

Only one of the candidates has public events planned on Wednesday. Bloomberg, a billionaire media mogul, plans rallies in Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee.

With an eye toward a potential general election campaign against Trump, Bloomberg on Wednesday also announced the opening of a campaign office in New Hampshire headed by Democratic strategist Liz Purdy.

Bloomberg also picked up endorsements from three black members of the U.S. House of Representatives after he came under scrutiny over his past support for a policing tactic known as stop and frisk, which disproportionately affected racial minorities.

In New Hampshire, Sanders had 26% of the vote and Buttigieg had 24%. Klobuchar had 20%, Warren 9% and Biden 8%.

Buttigieg on Wednesday said his strong results in Iowa and New Hampshire showed he had momentum going forward, “settling the questions of whether we could build a campaign across age groups and different kinds of communities.”

Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay U.S. president if elected, still faces questions about what opinion polls show is his weakness with black voters, one of the most loyal and vital Democratic voting blocs.

‘A WHOLE NEW LOOK’

Asked about how he could gain the confidence of racial minority voters, Buttigieg told MSNBC he was focused on economic empowerment and suggested he had learned lessons, sometimes “the hard way,” as mayor of South Bend. He pointed to a plan he released last summer aimed at fighting racism.

“I think we’re getting a whole new look from black and Latino voters who have so much riding on making sure that we defeat Donald Trump, because they are among those with most to lose if they have to endure yet another term of this president,” he told MSNBC.

In a sign of the growing rivalry between Sanders, 78, and Buttigieg, 38, supporters for the senator booed and chanted “Wall Street Pete!” when Buttigieg’s post-primary speech was shown on screens.

“This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” Sanders told supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, late on Tuesday.

The Democratic field shrank to nine main candidates after businessman Andrew Yang and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who had trailed in the polls and performed poorly on Tuesday, dropped out.

Biden, 77, who was once the front-runner in the Democratic race, stumbled to his second consecutive poor finish after placing fourth in Iowa. He is certain to face growing questions about his ability to consolidate moderate support against a surging Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

Klobuchar’s campaign said it was spending more than $1 million on ads in Nevada.

“We have beaten the odds every step of the way,” Klobuchar, 59, told supporters in Concord. “Because of you, we are taking this campaign to Nevada. We are going to South Carolina. And we are taking this message of unity to the country.”

 

(Reporting by John Whitesides, James Oliphant, Simon Lewis, Michael Martina and Amanda Becker in New Hampshire, additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Floodwaters rise on Charleston’s streets as Hurricane Dorian skirts U.S. coast

Nathan Piper, 11, is swamped by increasingly rough waves while body surfing as Hurricane Dorian approaches, in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

By Nick Carey and Amanda Becker

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Deserted, rain-lashed streets in Charleston, South Carolina, vanished beneath water on Thursday as Hurricane Dorian churned a few dozen miles offshore after reducing parts of the Bahamas to rubble.

Water pooled a few inches deep near the centuries-old waterfront. In certain low-lying blocks, it rose to a foot or more, as high tide approached and forecasters warned of storm surges of up to 8 feet (2 meters).

John Rivers, 74, and his three children were among the few to be seen in the streets on Thursday. 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 was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Charleston on Thursday, wavering in strength between a Category 2 and 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale. It was forecast to possibly make landfall in North Carolina late Thursday or early Friday.

Life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds were possible in much of the coast of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, the National Weather Service said.

Dorian whipped up at least three tornados in the region, officials said. One in North Carolina damaged scores of trailers in a campground in Emerald Isle, but no one was injured, North Carolina’s News & Observer reported.

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 continued to circulate 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: “We are ready to go. If something happens, we can still get out of here.”

FOUR DEATHS IN THE U.S.

At least four storm-related deaths have already 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.

On Charleston’s historic South Battery Street, which runs down to the harbor, Brys Stephens tried to keep the water away from his stately home, built in the veranda-wrapped Southern style that lures crowds of tourists to the city.

He and his family pumped water out of the yard and tried to reattach metal flood gates into the perimeter wall.

“The gates worked pretty well so far and we’ve managed to keep water away from the house,” Stephens said. “But we’ve got another storm surge coming later on, so we’ll see then if it holds.”

(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 and Bernadette Baum)

Charleston mass shooting victims can sue U.S. over gun purchase: court

FILE PHOTO: Dylann Roof sits in the court room at the Charleston County Judicial Center to enter his guilty plea on murder charges in state court for the 2015 shooting massacre at a historic black church, in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Grace Beahm/Pool/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Survivors of a 2015 mass shooting at a South Carolina church can sue the U.S. government over its alleged negligence in allowing Dylann Roof to buy the gun he used to kill nine African-Americans, a federal appeals court said on Friday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government was not immune from liability under either the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) or the Brady Act to prevent handgun violence.

Friday’s decision by a three-judge panel revived 16 lawsuits that challenged lapses in how the government vetted prospective gun purchasers, including the FBI’s management of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

William Wilkins, a former chief judge of the 4th Circuit representing the victims, said Congress had charged the FBI with adopting procedures “to stop people like Roof who could obtain assassins’ weapons” from doing so.

“The government has to do what the law requires,” Wilkins said in an interview. “It failed to do that in this case.”

Roof, a white supremacist, had been admitted to a Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015, where he then used his .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol in the shooting.

Victims said a proper background check would have shown that Roof had recently admitted to drug possession, which would have disqualified him from buying the gun from a federally licensed dealer two months earlier.

Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court that no one disputed that a proper check would have stopped Roof.

But he said U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston was wrong to dismiss the lawsuits on immunity grounds in June 2018, even as Gergel faulted the government’s “abysmally poor policy choices” in managing the background check system.

Gregory said the case turned on the NICS examiner’s alleged negligence in disregarding mandatory procedures. “The government can claim no immunity in these circumstances,” he wrote.

Circuit Judge G. Steven Agee partially dissented, saying the government was not immune from Brady Act claims, but that Gergel properly dismissed the FTCA case.

Roof, now 25, was sentenced to death in January 2017 after being convicted on 33 federal counts related to the shooting, including hate crimes. He pleaded guilty three months later to state murder charges, and was sentenced to nine consecutive life terms without parole.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)

Heavy snowstorm kills three, snarls travel in U.S. Southeast

An aerial view shows snow over the Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video. Nelson Aerial Productions/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – An intense snowstorm headed out to sea on Monday after dumping up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow on parts of the Southeastern United States, leaving three people dead in North Carolina and some 138,000 customers in the region still without power.

School districts across North and South Carolina and Virginia canceled classes for the day and emergency officials warned that heavy snow and icy roads were slowing their responses to problems such as hundreds of stranded motorists.

The storm dropped its heaviest snow in the appropriately named Whitetop, Virginia, tucked in the Appalachian Mountains along the western end of the Virginia-North Carolina border, the U.S. National Weather Service said. Whitetop received 2 feet of snow, while Greensboro, North Carolina, had 16 inches (41 cm) and Durham, North Carolina, got 14 inches (36 cm).

Slippery conditions on roadways in central and western North Carolina and southwest Virginia were expected on Monday night as temperatures were forecast to drop below freezing, Daniel Petersen, NWS meteorologist, said.

But temperatures were expected to rise later in the week, reaching into the 50s F in North Carolina east of the mountains on Friday, when there is a chance of rain.

There were three storm-related deaths, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s office said in a statement. A person died from a heart-related condition while en route to a shelter, and a terminally ill woman died when her oxygen device stopped working.

A motorist also died and a passenger was injured in Matthews in southwestern North Carolina on Sunday when a tree fell on their vehicle as it was traveling, Matthews police officials said in a statement.

The number of customers without power in the Carolinas and Virginia had decreased to about 138,000 by Monday evening from more than 220,000, Poweroutage.us reported.

The storm prompted the cancellation of one in four flights into and out of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, the sixth-busiest in the country, and other airports across the region, flight-tracking website FlightAware said.

The mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, Nancy Vaughan, who declared a state of emergency for the city on Sunday, said online that its police and fire departments had responded to over 100 accidents and 450 stranded motorists.

“Stay off the roads if you can,” Vaughan tweeted on Monday.

More than 100 counties across Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia delayed or canceled classes on Monday because of severe weather.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Gina Cherelus and Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Richard Chang and Peter Cooney)

South Carolina shooting spree leaves one officer dead, six wounded

Emergency personnel are seen on site in the aftermath of a shooting in Florence, South Carolina, U.S. October 3, 2018, in this still image obtained from a social media video. Derek Lowe/via REUTERS

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Seven law enforcement officers were shot, one fatally, when a gunman unleashed a hail of fire on police from inside a home on Wednesday near Florence, South Carolina, sparking a two-hour siege that ended with the suspect’s arrest, authorities said.

Details of the shooting and how it ended remained sketchy. But Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone said several of his deputies came under attack as they tried to serve an otherwise routine search warrant in the Vintage Place subdivision on the city’s western edge.

Withering gunfire continued as scores of police converged on the area amid reports of an “active shooter” and deployed armored personnel carriers to provide cover for the wounded and move them from harm’s way, officials said.

“Fire was being shot all over,” Boone told reporters. “The way the suspect was positioned, his view of fire was several hundred yards, so he had an advantage.”

An unspecified number of children who were inside the home with the gunman were all accounted for and safe after the suspect was taken into custody, ending a two-hour standoff, said Major Michael Nunn, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

The outset of the confrontation was captured in a recording of emergency radio transmissions posted online by The State newspaper, in which a dispatcher is heard saying: “Have an officer down,” before warning rescue units that access to the victim was limited.

“They advise the patient is going to be behind a residence, and the suspect was still firing. Units be advised, shots are still being fired at this time,” the dispatcher said.

At a news conference hours later, Boone confirmed that three county sheriff’s deputies and four Florence city police officers were struck by gunfire in the incident and that one of the city officers had died.

The conditions of the six surviving wounded officers were not immediately known, though officials indicated some were badly injured.

Florence, a city of about 38,000 people, is in the Pee Dee region of northeastern South Carolina that was drenched by heavy rains and flooding from Hurricane Florence last month.

“This is simply devastating news from Florence. The selfless acts of bravery from the men and women in law enforcement is real, just like the power of prayer is real,” Governor Henry McMaster said on Twitter.

President Donald Trump added in his own tweet: “My thoughts and prayers are with the Florence County Sheriff’s Office and the Florence Police Department tonight, in South Carolina. We are forever grateful for what our Law Enforcement Officers do 24/7/365.”

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C.; Additional reporting by Frank McGurty in New York and Bill Tarrant in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Cooney and Darren Schuettler)

At least five police officers shot in South Carolina: local media

Police Lights

(Reuters) – At least five law enforcement officers were shot in Florence, South Carolina, on Wednesday, an ABC News affiliate reported, citing the local sheriff’s office, and there were media reports that one of the officers was dead.

No official details on the shooting were immediately available, but the Florence County Emergency Management Department said on Twitter that “the active shooting situation is over and the suspect is in custody.”

“We are asking everyone to stay away from Vintage Place as there is still an active crime investigation in progress,” the tweet said.

Multiple news outlets reported that one officer was dead and four were injured.

A person answering the telephone at the county emergency department said he was not at liberty to provide further details.

WPDE-TV, based in Florence, reported that three Florence County sheriff’s deputies and two Florence city police officers were shot in the incident in a residential subdivision known as Vintage Place.

Florence, a city of about 38,000 people, is in the heart of the historical Pee Dee region of northeastern South Carolina that was drenched by heavy rains and flooding from Hurricane Florence.

(Reporting by Frank Mcgurty in New York and Bill Tarrant in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman Editing by Bill Tarrant)

South Carolina city hopeful as flooding remains a threat

Santee Cooper worker Carl McCrea checks the water levels around a 6000 foot long Aqua Dam built to keep sediment from a coal ash retention pond from going into the flooded Waccamaw River in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Conway, South Carolina, U.S. September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

By Harriet McLeod and Gene Cherry

CHARLESTON, S.C./RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – Emergency management officials in Georgetown, South Carolina, were optimistic on Thursday that their port community would see less flooding than previously expected in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

Florence, which crashed ashore two weeks ago as a Category 1 hurricane and killed 46 people in three states, has since dissipated, but the storm’s torrential rainfall threatens to swamp Georgetown as it drains toward the ocean.

Forecasts now show floodwaters rising two to four feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters) in Georgetown, which sits at the confluence of the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee and Sampit rivers about 30 miles (50 km) south of Myrtle Beach, considerably lower than initially feared.

“While we’re optimistic that things are looking better to some degree … there will be increased levels of water in some areas,” Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said on Wednesday. “The awareness level needs to be elevated.”

Officials were still urging 6,000 to 8,000 residents to leave their homes, with rivers expected to crest in Georgetown on Friday and remain above flood stage for four or five days.

The North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies said preliminary research suggests that Florence was among the rainiest storms in the United States in some 70 years.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said the river flooding caused by Florence, which dropped nearly 20 inches (50 cm) of rain in some places in the state, is something his state has not had to cope with before.

‘FULL BATTLE MODE’

“This is unprecedented and we are still in full battle mode,” McMaster said at a press briefing on Wednesday at Emergency Management Division headquarters in Columbia, the state capital.

Flooding has destroyed 46 homes in the state, significantly damaged more than 1,000 and forced 11,000 people to flee their homes, including 3,000 in Georgetown, EMD Director Kim Stenson said Wednesday.

In Conway County, where the Waccamaw was already well above flood stage, Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility, said floodwaters stopped rising before inundating a pond that holds more than 200,000 tons of toxic coal ash.

“The river’s rise has slowed and we think it’s cresting today,” utility spokeswoman Mollie Gore said from the site, where 115 workers had shored up the dam around the pond. “We still have a foot between the top of the river and the top of the dam.”

Santee Cooper said it has removed more than 1 million tons of coal ash, which can contaminate water and harm fish and wildlife, from the site in the past few years.

Some one to two inches of rain moving into the central and western parts of the state in a next day or two will prolong the flooding, said meteorologist Rich Otto of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Crews worked to erect temporary dams on either side of U.S. Highway 17, the main coastal route through the area, and National Guard engineers were installing a floating bridge at Georgetown in case the highway is washed out at the river.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod and Gene Cherry; additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Makini Brice in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; writing by Peter Szekely and Dan Whitcomb; editing by Cynthia Osterman, Lisa Shumaker, Larry King)

Florence-triggered flooding washes into South Carolina

U.S. Army Pfc. Marlen Squire, of the South Carolina National Guard, assists in evacuating local residents from floodwaters as a result of Hurricane Florence in Dongola, South Carolina, U.S. September 24, 2018. Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago/U.S. Army National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

By Harriet McLeod and Gene Cherry

CHARLESTON, S.C./RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – Thousands of people in the Georgetown, South Carolina area were urged to leave as rivers inundated by Hurricane Florence rainwater threatened on Wednesday to submerge neighborhoods under 10 feet of water.

Georgetown, which sits at the confluence of the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee and Sampit rivers, was largely spared the initial fury of Florence, which came ashore on Sept. 14 as a Category 1 hurricane and killed 46 people in three states.

But the port city of more than 9,000 people stands in the path of what the National Weather Service says could be significant flooding as water dumped by the storm system drains to the ocean.

Between 6,000 and 8,000 people have been exhorted to leave, but it was not clear how many had done so as of Tuesday evening, said Randy Akers, deputy public information officer for Georgetown County.

Parts of Georgetown could be submerged in up to 10 feet (3 meters) of water in the coming days as the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers overrun their banks, the National Weather Service said, adding that the deluge threatened to cut off highways and isolate communities.

“Be very vigilant,” Georgetown County Emergency Management Director Sam Hodge told residents on Facebook. “When you see the water start to rise, that is when it is time to take action.”

High waters surround homes and businesses in the small town of Bucksport, South Carolina, U.S. as rivers continue to rise and flooded areas expand as a result of Hurricane Florence, September 24, 2018. Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago/U.S. Army National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

High waters surround homes and businesses in the small town of Bucksport, South Carolina, U.S. as rivers continue to rise and flooded areas expand as a result of Hurricane Florence, September 24, 2018. Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago/U.S. Army National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

COAL ASH POND COULD FLOOD

In neighboring Conway County, the Waccamaw, which was already well above flood stage on Tuesday, could inundate a coal ash pond that holds more than 200,000 tons of toxic ash, according to Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility.

Santee Cooper said it has removed more than 1 million tons of coal ash, which can contaminate water and harm fish and wildlife, from the site in the past few years.

The Waccamaw was forecast to crest on Thursday at 22 feet in Conway and at 21.2 feet in Georgetown, a representative with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division said.

The potential flood zone encompasses roughly 3,500 homes in Georgetown, 37 miles (60 km) south of Myrtle Beach, and the coastal resort community of Pawleys Island where as many as 8,000 people live, Georgetown County spokeswoman Jackie Broach-Akers said.

Authorities warned residents in harm’s way with recorded telephone messages and home visits. The county opened two emergency shelters on Monday, and hotels in nearby Myrtle Beach were offering discounts to evacuees. Public schools were closed until further notice.

FILE PHOTO: Water from the flooded Waccamaw River surrounds a house in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence now downgraded to a tropical depression in Conway, South Carolina, U.S. September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Randall

FILE PHOTO: Water from the flooded Waccamaw River surrounds a house in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence now downgraded to a tropical depression in Conway, South Carolina, U.S. September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Crews worked to erect temporary dams on either side of U.S. Highway 17, the main coastal route through the area, and National Guard engineers were installing a floating bridge at Georgetown in case the highway is washed out at the river.

Florence dumped 30 to 40 inches (75 to 100 cm) of rain on Wilmington, North Carolina, alone.

Insured losses from Hurricane Florence will range from $2.8 billion to $5 billion, according to RMS, a risk modeling and analytics firm.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Trott, Leslie Adler and Cynthia Osterman)

Waterways rise in South Carolina, residents told to leave

Flooding is seen in and around Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 19, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media on September 21, 2018. ALAN CRADICK, CAPE FEAR RIVER WATCH/via REUTERS

By Harriet McLeod and Gene Cherry

CHARLESTON, S.C./RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – Authorities urged thousands of people to leave their homes around the city of Georgetown, South Carolina as water dumped by long-departed Hurricane Florence surged down rivers and threatened to bring devastating floods.

Water levels were still rising early on Tuesday, said emergency services there, more than a week after the storm first made landfall on the U.S. Atlantic coast and killed 46 people mostly in North Carolina.

Parts of Georgetown could be submerged in up to 10 feet (3 meters) of floodwaters in the next few days as the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers overran their banks, said the National Weather Service.

The deluge threatened to cut off highways and isolate communities, they added.

“If the flood map … shows you are in an affected area, you need to leave,” Georgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb said on Monday. “Your property can be replaced, but your life can’t.”

Authorities were sending recorded telephone messages to residents in harm’s way and will go door-to-door over the next two days, Georgetown County spokeswoman Jackie Broach-Akers said.

The potential flood zone encompasses some 3,500 homes in Georgetown, 37 miles (60 km) south of Myrtle Beach, and the coastal resort community of Pawleys Island where as many as 8,000 people live, Broach-Akers said.

FLORENCE IMPACT “STILL WITH US”

The county opened two emergency shelters on Monday, and hotels outside the flood zone in nearby Myrtle Beach were offering discounts to evacuees. Public schools will be closed until further notice, Broach-Akers said.

State transportation crews were working to erect temporary dams on either side of U.S. Highway 17, the main coastal route through the area, and National Guard engineers were installing a floating bridge at Georgetown in case the highway is washed out at the river.

The National Weather Service said flooding from Florence would likely persist in coastal parts of the Carolinas for days as the high-water crest of numerous rivers keeps moving downstream toward the ocean.

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper said on Monday that seven rivers in the southeast part of the state were at major flood stages and three others at moderate flood stages.

“Florence is gone but the storm’s devastation is still with us,” Cooper said in a statement.

The storm dumped 30 to 40 inches (75 to 100 cm) of rain on Wilmington, North Carolina, alone after making landfall nearby on Sept. 14. The storm moved northwest before turning back east and becoming a post-tropical cyclone over West Virginia three days later.

Insured losses from Hurricane Florence will range from $2.8 billion to $5 billion, RMS, a risk modeling and analytics firm, said on Monday.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Andrew Heavens)