CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) – Now a tropical depression, the storm that was Hurricane Florence continued to create catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas on Monday, killing at least 23 people and leaving hundreds of thousands without power.
While fear of storm surges is over along the coast, inland counties are still dealing with torrential rain and scores of rivers and streams that have gone over their banks.
On Monday afternoon authorities finally were able to open one flooded route to Wilmington, N.C., the closest city to Florence’s landfall and a community that has effectively been an island since Saturday.
Interstate-95, the east coast’s major highway, running from Maine to South Florida, continues to be closed due to extensive flooding in Lumberton, N.C.
Sadly, searchers in Union County, N.C. found the body of one-year-old Kaiden Lee-Welch Monday morning. Lee-Welch was swept away from his mother in fast-moving floodwaters over the weekend. His body was recovered later in the day.
The local sheriff’s office said the infant disappeared after his mother attempted to drive through a barricaded street, and her car washed away. As they escaped the vehicle, he was ripped from her arms in the current.
Close to 1,000 water rescues have been conducted in North Carolina, authorities said.
Those living near the Cape Fear River are now urged to evacuate, as the river is expected to crest at twice its average height as rain continues. The Lumber river in Lumberton, North Carolina breached on Monday as a result of heavy rainfall.
Governor Roy Cooper warned North Carolinians not to be complacent when Florence was downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 1 before it hit the southeast coast near Wilmington on Friday. He and other officials say the dangerous effects of Florence are far from over.
Since its arrival, Florence caused a total of about 1.4 million power outages in North Carolina and South Carolina. Duke Energy says it was able to restore power to 1.1 million, but 309,341 reported outages are still unresolved across the two states.
As rivers and creeks continue to spill over the boundaries of their banks, flooding roadways and toppling trees, utility crews are struggling to assist 12 counties in North Carolina. These include New Hanover, Brunswick, Duplin, Robison and areas as far west as Scotland County.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation reported more than 100 road closures on Sunday.
Duke Energy’s utility crews must complete a damage assessment in an affected area before work can be done to restore power. The problem, said Duke Energy spokeswoman Sara Collins, is that poor road conditions and closures are preventing crews from accessing the listed areas to even begin the process. Wilmington in New Hanover County, for example, remains to be isolated due to the two-way closure of “impassable” interstate 40 and surrounding roadways.
Dillon and Marlboro Counties in South Carolina are also waiting to be assessed before power can be restored, Collins said.
She said possible landslides in Western North Carolina and flooding throughout the Carolinas are likely to cause more power outages during the week.
“We do anticipate more outages as the effects of the storm continue, but not at the magnitude we saw when Florence first hit and caused hundreds of thousands of outages,” Collins said.
Among the on-going repair efforts by Duke Energy is the mitigation of damages to a coal ash landfill on its Sutton power station near Wilmington, which had 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash material displaced by large quantities of storm water.
Collins said the company is confident that the coal ash breach is a “non-issue,” partly because the landfill that eroded is on-site.