Published 10:17 AM EDT Sep 18, 2018
Prosperous, vibrant Wilmington was opening three sites for food and water distribution Tuesday as officials in the North Carolina city struggled to feed a population cut off by the historic floods of once-mighty Hurricane Florence.
The Cape Fear River, normally a tourist attraction and economic boon, has brought the city of 120,000 to its knees. Residents who didn't flee before Florence hit last week are now reliant on essentials rolling in on high-water trucks and helicopters.
The river, expected to crest in Wilmington on Tuesday, set a record Monday when it reached 22.54 feet in the town of Burgaw, 25 miles to the north.
"The river will continue to rise in the coming days," the National Weather Service said. "Stay safe, river flooding is still a major concern!"
The storm has been blamed for at least 32 deaths since it rolled up on the coast of North Carolina last week. More than 300,000 utility customers across the state remained without power Tuesday.
More: Wilmington cut off as flooding overwhelms North Carolina; 32 dead
More: Flooding from Florence to swamp Carolinas for days – or even weeks
Some areas saw up to 36 inches of rain. Wilmington's total was about two feet. The combination of high winds and surge from the initial impact of the storm, plus the rain, has paralyzed the city. Most homes and businesses have no power, and most traffic lights aren't working.
The city welcomed 20 high-water trucks from Fort Bragg, packed with enough food and water for 60,000 people for four days. But access to the city remained limited. Stores and gas stations were running out of essentials.
Residents lined up for hours for ice at The Rose Ice and Coal Company. Desperate for gas to run a generator at his home, Nick Monroe waited in a half-mile-long line at a local station that ran out.
His power went off Thursday before Florence hit the coast, but he couldn’t recall exactly when.
“It’s all kind of a blur,” Monroe said.
More than a dozen North Carolina rivers are expected to crest in major flood stage this week, and damage is widespread.
In Morehead City, almost 100 miles northwest of Wilmington, the owners of Seaport Antiques returned from a trip to Europe to discover the store they've owned for 32 years in shambles. Don and Nell Thompson found a soupy, crunchy mess of glass, rainwater, ceiling tiles, insulation, baseball cards, broken furniture and shattered ceramics.
Even a Civil War-era cavalry sword was lost somewhere in the swamp.
“We’ve had it bad before,” Don Thompson said, surveying the damage. "But not this bad.”
The storm rolled north and weakened to an "elongated low pressure area" Tuesday, centered 105 miles west of New York City. Still wet and wild, Florence was slamming Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York with heavy rain. Flash flooding was a concern across much of the Carolinas and parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and into southern New England.
More: Tropical Storm Florence: Here's how you can help
More: After Florence: Your house has flooded. Here's what you should do
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster warned it would be days until rivers crest along the state’s border with North Carolina.
President Donald Trump said Monday he remains committed to the recovery of states hit by Hurricane Florence.
"We will not rest until that job is done and done perfectly," Trump said.
Contributing: Brett Kelman, Asheville (N.C) Citizen Times; The Associated Press