Sunshine belies ongoing flood threat in Florence’s wake

In North Carolina, more than 1,100 roads remained closed, and about 10,000 people remained in shelters. Photo credit: Bloomberg

Grant Loftin said Tuesday the sun was shining for the first time in several days in New Bern, N.C., as he continued to assess the damage Hurricane Florence had wrought.

All employees of his Hyundai of New Bern dealership had been accounted for — about two-thirds had returned to work — but at least two lost their homes to the storm.

“We’re just trying to make sure everybody’s OK,” Loftin said, adding, “Our first priority is our families and their homes.”

At his store, at least 12 new Hyundai Elantras and a pre-owned 2014 GMC Sierra were totaled by floodwaters. “Not sure about the roof yet,” he said of his building. “We do know it’s leaking but haven’t had the chance to get anybody up there.”

Throughout Florence’s path, dealers reported flooded stores and damaged inventory. The sign at a Cadillac store in New Bern had been blown onto 10 vehicles. Trent Cadillac General Manager Jeff Mooring said despite that the dealership considered itself lucky.

The storm had been downgraded Tuesday to a post-tropical cyclone that was producing heavy rain over the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England areas, but parts of the Carolinas and the East Coast are expected to face flooding for days.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said at a midday press conference that 16 of the state’s rivers were at flood stage, and another three were expected to peak on Wednesday and Thursday.

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“Even though there’s no substantial rain now in the forecast and the sun may be shining, rivers continue to rise and we will see more flooding,” Cooper said.

He said there had been 26 deaths in North Carolina, and news reports were putting the storm’s death toll at 32 on Tuesday afternoon.

In North Carolina, more than 1,100 roads remained closed, and about 10,000 people remained in shelters. Some 2,200 people had been rescued by first responders, and those efforts continued Tuesday, Cooper said.

Flooding remains the most widespread and ongoing obstacle for residents in the affected areas, and for dealers attempting a return to normal operations.

“What we’re finding out is that the flood damage is much worse than we expected going into the storm,” said Robert Glaser, president of the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association.

The storm’s slow movement exacerbated much of the inundation. The National Hurricane Center had put Florence’s speed in the low single digits as it was making landfall.

“At one point you could’ve walked faster than the storm,” Glaser said.

Glaser noted that disaster relief funds are available from the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association and National Automobile Dealers Association. “We’re trying to identify as many employees as possible who had significant damage and finding out what we can do as an industry to help them,” Glaser said.

Meanwhile, parts of the industry’s supply chain had resumed operations. Mercedes-Benz and Volvo Cars both had their South Carolina plants up and running Monday after closing them early last week in anticipation of the storm.

The Port of Charleston, where BMW exports South Carolina-made crossovers, was operating on a normal schedule Monday after closing Thursday and Friday. The storm stayed farther north than expected, leaving the port unscathed.

Truck gates were open at container and breakbulk terminals, including those for autos, and vessel operations have resumed, the South Carolina Ports Authority said in an advisory. Intermodal ramps for the Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads, as well as the inland port in Greer, also had reopened.

In hard-hit New Bern, Loftin said he was still discovering damage Tuesday after a long weekend, which began Thursday night when firefighters rapped on his door and ordered him and his brother to vacate his two-story home. They were ferried down the street by boat before being taken by bus to a makeshift shelter at a local school. On Tuesday, he said, “The true impact of this has not hit us yet, I’m realizing in real time.”

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