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Hurricane Florence floods Columbus County (Sept. 10-17 coverage)

Revised on: 09.17.2018 at 05:12 p.m.

Posted on: 09.13.2018 at 02:04 p.m.

A boat from Oklahoma Task Force 2 launches on Red Hill Road east of Whiteville to rescue people stranded on the other side of White Marsh and take them to the hospital.

One boat was dispatched to meet a Lake Waccamaw ambulance transporting a 9-month’s-pregnant patient to Columbus Regional.


A flooded car just south of the railroad tracks on Franklin Street.

This story will be updated as information becomes available.

Monday, Sept. 17

10:43 a.m.

The Lumber River at Fair Bluff is expected to crest Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 1:45 a.m., according to John Dorman of N.C. Emergency Management. The river there had risen 3.5 feet between Sunday at 7 p.m. and Monday at 9:30 a.m., per measurements by Allen Thompson. Dorman said that Fair Bluff was expected to begin “experiencing some flooding” at 10:45 Monday morning.

Cherry Grove Baptist Church announced that they would begin serving lunch to first responders in the church fellowship hall Monday at 12 noon.

10:11 a.m.

Brian Murphy, owner of Murph’s Pawn on South Madison St., reports that his business has been flooded and looted.

10 a.m.

Tabor City firefighters are dispatched to go door to door to check on residents in the western part of town, which experienced significant flooding overnight.

8:30 a.m.

Last night’s torrential rains caused significant flooding in Whiteville and southern Columbus County. Rescuers were out all night rescuing people from cars that had washed off the road and numerous homes. Rescues were continuing throughout the morning.

Rescuers answered calls despite two tornado warnings, including one reported on the ground near Syndey, and extremely heavy rain. Fire and rescue units responded not knowing if they could reach victims. Often, they couldn’t due to impassable roads.

Downtown Whiteville is significantly flooded.

The rain also flooded downtown Whiteville to at least Matthew levels. Whiteville Fire and units from High Point Fire, plus National Guard high-wheel truck crews, pulled multiple people from homes near downtown overnight and this morning.

Old Dock-Cypress Creek Fire is working a structure fire off Hallsboro Road South, and Lake Waccamaw Rescue is attempting to get a pregnant patient who is nine months along across White Marsh Swamp to the hospital. Her due date is today. A boat with a paramedic was dispatched to traverse the rushing waters and bring the woman to the end of Jefferson Street and a waiting Whiteville ambulance.

The National Guard removes victims to a shelter.

7:45 a.m.

The Lumber River at Fair Bluff rose nearly three feet overnight. Allen Thompson, who has been taking measurements since Sunday, said that by 7:15 a,m. Monday the river level at the N.C. 904 bridge had risen to 17.2 feet compared to 14.3 feet at 7 p.m. Sunday.

7:38 a.m.

Columbus County Emergency Services Director says water rescues were conducted all night and continuing now. Phone lines at the 911 center down and calls are being routed to another county.

Worley fears today will be worse as waters continue to rise.

She said Acme Delco is cut off from the rest of the county due to impassable roads.

“There is a good chance today we’re going to be working on flying in  resources to them because they have been cut off because we can’t get resources to them.”

Click here for Monday morning update from the Emergency Operations Center. 

Flooding victims on Canal Street look for help.

6:54 a.m.

Water has risen to the stage area on Riverside Drive in Fair Bluff.  Officials expect the worst flooding in Fair Bluff to occur in days to come … Monday’s county commissioners’ meeting has been cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date … Whiteville city council meets in special called session Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Vineland Station to discuss city emergency response effort.

Hospital and Coast Guard personnel load one of two patients onto a waiting Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter Saturday evening. Both patients were in critical condition and airlifted to New Hanover Regional at the height of the rain and wind because ground transport was not possible. An RN from CRHS accompanied the patients. An unbelievable video shot by Terrie Priest, vice president of business development and community relations for Columbus Regional Healthcare, of the helicopter’s first aborted takeoff and its subsequent successful liftoff is posted at The News Reporter’s Facebook page.

Sunday, Sept. 16

5:45 p.m.

Fair Bluff Fire and Rescue says of about 150 people canvassed to evacuate, only nine chose to remain at home; 15 were transported by bus to the shelter at South Columbus High School. The balance left using their own transportation. The National Guard is expected to lock down the town, preventing entry by anyone starting at 7 p.m.

County Manager Mike Stephens said officials tallied 70 rescues yesterday. He didn’t know how many had occurred Sunday. Stephens said the rivers continue to rise and stressed that the county is still in “lifesaving mode.” He said the Whiteville Rec Center shelter is experiencing generator problems. The facility was opened Saturday night after officials closed the East Columbus High School shelter due to water entering the building.

2:54 p.m.

Rep. Brenden Jones alerted people living in Fair Bluff and along the Lumber River that the dike in Robeson County busted.

2:10 p.m.

The sheriff’s office reported that U.S. 74-76 from Whiteville to Wilmington is closed. Traffic is backed up on the highway west of Whiteville.

Officials also re-emphasized that the East Columbus High School shelter is closed.

2:07 p.m.

Drone footage shows flood waters overflowed the temporary berm constructed around the Duke Energy substation near South Franklin Street in Whiteville and flooded it.

Floodwaters have flowed over the top of the temporary berm constructed at the Duke Energy substation next to Soules Swamp. When the substation is flooded, the entire city of Whiteville is without power. (Drone photo by Michael Stanley).

1:13 p.m.

Photos showed significant flooding at Hallsboro Middle School.

1:01 p.m.

The Columbus County Sheriff’s Office said the following roads are impassible: U.S. 74 from the U.S. 701 exit through the eastern part of the county, N.C. 211 South toward Southport, Old Lumberton Road at the Robeson County line, and Gore Trailer Road at Singletary Road.

1 p.m.

Cindy Faulk, owner of Body Shapers in downtown Whiteville, posted a Facebook video showing the roof had collapsed at the 24-hour gym.

1 p.m.

Rep Brenden Jones, Fair Bluff Fire and Rescue and National Guardsmen are canassing Fair Bluff neighborhoods encouraging people to evacuate to the shelter at South Columbus High School. Busses are staged at Hill’s grocery store to transport evacuees.

A National Guardsman walks to his 6-wheel vehicle at the Whiteville Armory. The crew arrived about 4 a.m. Sunday. The trucks are used for high-water evacuations.


The Red Cross shelter at East Columbus High School closed Saturday night as water began flowing into the building. Chance Vogel, shelter manager, said that the 40+ residents had to leave behind cots and food as they were evacuated by school activity bus. During an evacuation, “You can only bring what they tell you to bring,” he said.

Vogel warned anyone still living in a flood-threatened neighborhood to “get out. It’s not safe to stay. People should call 911 if they need to be rescued.

“Your home is not worth losing your life. We have shelters all over.” Vogel said Sunday morning that shelters were still accepting new residents, and  “We’re working hard with Emergency Services.”

The recreation center is located off of Maultsby Street south of Edgewood Elementary School. Vogel said that donations of bedding and non-perishable food would be welcome, “but we don’t want people to go out of their way and take risks.”

11:55 a.m.

Paige Russ Brewer, who lives on Bella Coola Road at Lake Waccamaw posted to Facebook: “Prayers please as we are being rescued by the National Guard because of the flooding.”

A pier at Lake Waccamaw is now an island.

10 a.m.

Update from the Columbus County Emergency Operations Center: County Manager Mike Stephens said numerous water  rescues occurred overnight, “particularly in the Delco area.” He was unable to provide the number of people rescued. He said the National Guard and Coast Guard are assisting local first responders.

“They’ve done an outstanding job, risking their own personal safety to help the citizens of this county,” Stephens said.

Columbus County Emergency Services Director Kay Worley urged residents to stay off the roads due to flooding in many areas.

Stephen said U.S. 74 near Hallsboro was closed. Worley said N.C. 130 was open, however, she stressed that the majority of secondary roads are impassable.

Power lines  down east of Chabourn.

Worley said the county’s shelters are still accepting evacuees. The shelters are located at Edgewood Elementary, Guideway Elementary, Whiteville Rec Center, West Columbus High School and South Columbus High School. The shelter at East Columbus High School was closed Saturday night due to water in the building.

Worley said virtually the entire county was without power Saturday, however those numbers were decreasing by Sunday.

Worley said she had not received any reports of storm-related deaths or serious injuries.


8:29 a.m.

Whiteville Emergency Director Hal Lowder said approximately 90 water rescues were conducted overnight in the city, and the evacuees were taken to a new shelter at the Whiteville Rec Center.

The city has issued a 24-hour curfew for downtown. Several blocks are flooded.

Saturday, Sept. 15

11:15 p.m.

Whiteville firefighters help evacuees into the Whiteville Rec Center after rescue on Maultsby Drive.

Multiple water rescues are underway across the county.

Downtown Whiteville appears to be flooded. Soules Swamp was out of its banks and running over South Madison Street at the bridge as darkness descended over the city.

Two very heavy bands of rain hit the county tonight, one at dusk and another around 10:30.

In Whiteville, firefighters and National Guardsmen are using large trucks to evacuate people from the east and west sides of town. They are being taken to the Whiteville rec center out of necessity, where at 10 p.m. there was no water or electricity. The Edgewood shelter is full.

City public works vehicles  in floodwaters on South Lee Street.

One call in the city was to rescue a driver from the roof of a car on South Powell Boulevard.

The National Guard was assisting with evacuations.

Three men from the Cajun Navy volunteer water rescue team from Louisiana also arrived to help.

The Hallsboro, White Marsh areas had the majority of water rescues in rural areas.

City and county officials were concerned about possible tornado sightings to the north of Columbus County.

More evacuees offload at the Whiteville Rec. Center.

Placing barriers on Madison Street at Mann’s.

8:40 p.m.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina has submitted more counties to be added to major federal disaster declaration: Columbus, Cumberland, Jones, Lenoir, Robeson, Wayne. More still expected to be submitted in the coming days.

7:06 p.m.

Columbus County Emergency Management announces that the shelter at East Columbus High School is being closed due to water in the building. Evacuees housed there are being relocated to a new shelter at the Whiteville Rec Center.

5:45 p.m.

Roads across the county are becoming impassible, and some fire departments are reporting roads are beginning to wash out.

Fair Bluff Fire & Rescue issued a call for people in Fair Bluff who were flooded in Matthew to evacuate now. Assistant Chief Ken Elliott said he expects flooding to possibly be worse than it was in Matthew.

Fire crews are trying to get to a motorist stranded east of Whiteville but are unable to reach the car due to high water.

Emergency Management Director Kay Worley and County Manager Mike Stephens said about 4:30 that people who live in flood-prone areas should evacuate immediately. They urged evacuees to go to one of the five shelters open in the county: Edgewood Elementary in Whiteville, Guideway Elementary and West, East and South Columbus high schools.

13 more inches of rain are expected Saturday.


Wallyce Todd of Columbus County Disaster Relief took part in an emergency services meeting at which first responders reminded the public to “Stay in place as much as possible.” Flooding is expected.

For any emergency, the first number to call is 911, with Columbus County Disaster Relief as a followup option: 625-7221.

3:41 p.m.

Some residents of the Red Cross shelter at Edgewood Elementary School have been away from home for four days and finding the waiting hard, but they describe their situation as “fine.”

Edgewood is the only shelter at capacity. South Columbus High, West Columbus High, East Columbus HIgh and Guideway Elementary schools continue to accept new residents.

3:35 p.m.

City Emergency Services Director Hal Lowder strongly encouraged residents to stay off the roads, due to high water, downed utility lines and fallen trees.

Traffic lights are not functioning in the city. Law enforcement reminded drivers that if they must drive, treat traffic lights as a four way stop sign.

Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann said city water and sewer are still functioning, but city debris teams are only going out in cases of life-threatening emergencies.

Multiple trees are uprooted and blocking or partly blocking roads in the Hallsboro area.

An additional foot of rain is expected in the city and county. Major, life threatening flooding will occur today and in the coming weeks.


3:30 p.m.

Water was starting to stand in downtown Whiteville. Crews used caution tape to close Frazier St. Nearby, water was flowing across S. Lee St. It appeared water had not breached the temporary berm constructed around Duke Energy’s substation on S. Franklin St. Several generator-powered lights were staged throughout downtown.

2:15 p.m. update

Whiteville City Schools & Columbus County Schools announced via Twitter, schools will be closed Monday – Wednesday, September 17-19, for students and teachers.

A decision will be made at a later date regarding the rest of the week.

11:45 a.m update

The National Weather Service is calling for up to 13 more inches of rain today, on top of what the county has already received. Early reports from parts of the

county indicated that 10 to 18 inches fell Friday.

Flooding on the Waccamaw, Cape Fear, and Lumber rivers could exceed levels from Matthews, the National Weather Service says.

Winds will remain in the 30 miles per hour range most of the day.

A truck passes by a downed tree on Pinckney Street during a Saturday morning downpour.

The sign at the Columbus County EOC indicates power outages in Columbus County – 97 percent.


Kay Worley speaks with National Guardsmen at the EOC Saturday morning.


10 a.m. update

Officials from local and state agencies gathered for a 8:45 a.m. meeting at the Columbus County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to discuss Florence’s impacts here.

County Fire Marshal Shannon Blackman said he had received reports of flooding in the Delco area with some resident evacuating their homes.

County Emergency Management Director Kay Worley said nearly all of Columbus County is without power. The county is continuing to use its Kenwood radio system for emergency communication. Worley said the radio tower site in Fair Bluff was not running, but she hopes to get it operational today.

Charlene Bush of the health department reported there were 761 evacuees in the county’s five shelters, down from a high of 850. She said the shelters are in need of nurses because the health department doesn’t have enough personnel to cover the facilities 24-hours a day.

DSS Director Algernon McKenzie said about 150 of his staff members are coordinating with the Red Cross and health department to sign evacuees into the shelters.

Numerous outside rescue teams are in the county, Worley said. A specialty operations medical team that specializes in search and rescue operations is based at Chadbourn Fire and Rescue. A Coast Guard team dedicated to Columbus County is being staged in Lumberton. A National Guard team assigned to the county was used to deliver food to shelters last night. They are prepared to evacuate residents using high-clearance vehicles. There are ambulance strike teams at ADR, Cerro Gordo, Whiteville Rescue and Chadbourn.  The State Fire Marshal’s Office reported that four out-of-county engines and 17 crew members are here.

Julie Strickland, county parks and recreations director, said the county has 3,800 bottles of water 1,150 prepackaged meals.

The county plans to use the former Tortimex facility in the Southeast Industrial Park  to create a distribution center for state resources. The items will be distributed to the public at fire and rescue departments throughout the county. The Tortimex facility will not distribute items directly to the public. The county said personal donations are not being accepted at this time. Following Hurricane Matthew, the county didn’t have enough manpower to deal with the clothes. Redirecting donations to churches and charitable organizations.

The county has obtained four swift water rescue boats since Hurricane Matthew. They are staged at Whiteville rescue, Fair Bluff, Old Dock, and Acme Delco.

The EOC has logged nearly 1,000 man hours since yesterday, County Finance Director Bobbie Faircloth said.

The N.C. Department of Corrections is providing manpower to supplement law enforcement at shelters and water stations. A team of ten people is on the way to Columbus County.

Outside crews may be housed at the Whiteville High School gym and Ambassador Camp at Lake Waccamaw.

Sheriff Lewis Hatcher said he had surveyed the county this morning. He said most people had heded the call to stay off the roads, but there were  number of wrecks where cars hit tress yesterday and overnight.

County Commission Chair Amon McKenzie thanked  everyone for their service. “This is the first time I have experienced a storm of this magnitude,” he said.

Friday, Sept. 14

6:00 p.m.

A year wide curfew was declared for  Whiteville  dusk til dawn.

3:30 p.m.

The full force of Hurricane Florence continued to bear down on Columbus County at 3:30 p.m. Multiple trees are down and power outages are widespread.

An elderly man was seriously injured just after noon when his truck either struck a large pine tree in the roadway on NC 130 east of NC 905, or the tree fell on the truck while it was moving. Brunswick firefighters used air bags and chainsaws, plus hydraulic cutting tools, to remove the man in terrible weather conditions.

Paramedics took the man to Columbus Regional, where his condition it unknown.

At 2:45 p.m. Brunswick firefighters responded to Bitmore Road just east of Lowe’s to a call that a roof had collapsed on a woman and two children. The victims were out when Brunswick firefighters arrived. There were no serious injuries.

In another incident, firefighters had to detour around several downed trees to reach a structure fire off Honey Hill Road after 1 p.m.

At 3 p.m., radar showed Hurricane Florence moving west at 5 mph. The eye appeared to be near Shallotte moving toward Tabor City and Loris. Radar showed a band of heavy rain was over Columbus County at 3 p.m., and 20-plus inches of rain is expected.

At 3:15 p.m. the 911 Center broadcast that winds were 40 mph sustained with gusts up to 60 mph.

At 3 p.m., Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann said there were trees down and widespread power outage in the city. As of 3:30 p.m. there is a citywide dusk to dawn curfew for Whiteville.

At 3 p.m., Lake Waccamaw Mayor Daniel Hilburn announced a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the town of Lake Waccamaw.

At 3 p.m., Chadbourn Mayor Phillip Britt ordered a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. for the entire town of Chadbourn.

12:15 p.m.

Hwy. 130 south of Brunswick is closed at Soles Rd. due to a wreck.

12:04 p.m.

County Emergency Management Director Kay Worley said no major incidents had been reported in Columbus County. She said there were no major roadway closures. Worley urged motorists to stay off the road.

Number of evacuees at shelters: Edgewood Elementary in Whiteville, 136; East Columbus High School, 77; South Columbus High School, 220; West Columbus High School, 291; Guideway Elementary School, 70.

Worley said a Coast Guard unit assigned to Columbus County is staged in Lumberton.

The Columbus County Emergency Operations Center was bustling with activity as Hurricane Florence’s impact intensified Friday morning. Staff photo by Justin Smith

11:30 a.m.

Most of Columbus County is without power. Duke Energy’s website reported that 15,046 of its 16,544 customers in the county were without power. BEMC reported that 6,794 of 12,323 customers in the county were without service.

Lee Street in front of Whiteville High School. Staff photo by Justin Smith

11 a.m.

County Emergency Management Director Kay Worley reports that the county’s radio system is operational after being down for a time.


BEMC reports that 4,453 if its 12,323 customers in Columbus County are without power. Duke Energy’s website shows 9,078 of its 16,544 customers in the county are without service.


Red Hill Road through White Marsh has been cleared of the earlier fallen three that blocked the path to the hospital.


Whiteville Rescue reporting everyone is out of the mobile home on Amber Lane. Two taken to the hospital.


A large tree has fallen on a house on Amber Lane off Smyrna Road north of Whiteville. A resident is trapped inside. Fire and rescue have been dispatched.

7:05 a.m.

A large tree is blocking Red Hill Road through White Marsh Swamp east of Whiteville. Anyone headed to the hospital from the east will have to travel U.S. 74-76 to U.S. 701.

7 a.m.

The latest NWS forecast calls for rainfall in the 27-inch range in Columbus County. The bad news is that predictions for rainfall in the Lumber River basin above Fair Bluff have risen dramatically. Winds will be sustained in the 50s and 60s through most of the day, with gusts in the 70s and 80s.


6:05 a.m.

BEMC reports 1,536 without power in Columbus County (out of 12,323 customers here) and Duke reports 4,812 (out of 16,544 customers here).

Firefighters and police officers get supper from the “When Pigs Fly” trailer, which is providing food at the Whiteville Emergency Operations Center. Firefighters and engines from High Point and Kernersville are here to assist Whiteville Fire.

Thursday, Sept. 13

7 p.m.

Fire and EMS support units have begun to arrive in Columbus County. Five paramedic ambulances from mountain counties and the North Carolina Ambulance Strike Team have been assigned to Columbus County. Fire crews from High Point and Kernersville are also in the county.

So far, only a couple of trees have been reported down.

6:45 p.m.

Columbus Regional Healthcare System issued the following press release Thursday afternoon.

The administration and staff of Columbus Regional Healthcare System continues to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Florence.  As of 4 p.m. Thursday, CRHS will begin a shelter-in-place procedure. In preparation for a shelter-in-place, the hospital is making plans to discharge patients as appropriate, increase staffing levels on site and secure extra food, linen and supplies for staff and those needing medical care.

The Columbus Regional Healthcare System emergency room will remain open throughout the storm to care for the urgent health care needs of our community.

The hospital continues to care for current in-patients and is making plans to accommodate staff that will be housed at the hospital throughout the storm. The current restricted access policy to the facility continues. All access to the facility should be made through the emergency department.

CRHS urges members of the community to remain at home or at one of the area evacuation shelters and avoid any unnecessary travel during the storm. In case of a medical emergency call 911.

Paramedics from five mountain counties, members of the North Carolina Ambulance Strike Team, arrived in Columbus County Thursday.

3:15 p.m.

The National Weather Service told county fire and rescue officials Thursday afternoon that rainfall amounts will be dangerously high and widespread across the region during Hurricane Florence. The scope of rainfall increased from this morning’s briefing, extending the amount of rain across the entire Lumber River basin.

Rainfall in eastern Columbus County is expected to reach 25 to 27 inches, central Columbus County 22 inches, and western and southern sections, 18-19 inches.

Friday will see sustained winds in the 50 to 65 miles per hour range. Winds with regular gusts from 70 to 80 miles per hour will peak Friday afternoon and evening and decrease slowly, falling to tropical force winds not until the day Saturday.

Flash flooding will cause many trees to fall and possible road washouts. Many residents could be isolated by floodwaters.

Both the Waccamaw and Lumber rivers are expected to hit major flood stages Sunday and Monday.

The county Emergency Operations Center.

2:50 p.m.

A small convoy of out-of-town ambulances rolled into Whiteville with sirens blaring and parked outside the Columbus County Emergency Operations Center.

1:40 p.m.

Columbus County Emergency Services announced that Edgewood Elementary School is at capacity. The other shelters in the county have capacity: Guideway Elementary and East, South and West Columbus high schools. However, Guideway is the only shelter with cots remaining. Evacuees are asked to bring an air mattress or sleeping bag.


Monday, Sept. 10

4:23 p.m.

The Go-Gas station on Madison Street is roped off due to a lack of fuel.
Some mandatory evacuations in Horry and Brunswick counties will cause traffic tie ups in Columbus.

4:07 p.m.

The City of Whiteville declared a state of emergency effective 2 p.m. today.

3:30 p.m.
Hurricane Florence is declared a strong Category 4 storm.

Reader Interactions

Community Events

november, 2018

02nov(nov 2)9:00 am30(nov 30)6:00 pmDisaster Recovery Center hours changeState/FEMA disaster recovery centers

16nov5:00 pm“Paint and Create” topic of Whiteville Teen Science CaféA free pizza dinner is provided at the end of the event, courtesy of Anthony’s Italian Restaurant.

17nov1:30 pm2:30 pmThe Life and Legacy of Millie-Christine McKoyThe North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Whiteville

17nov6:00 pm11:00 pmCRHS Foundation Inspiration GalaCelebrating The Golden Nurse Award

17nov8:00 pm2:00 pmColumbus County Farmers Market will re-open Saturday, November 17Farm-to-Table Fundraiser Rescheduled for November 30

24nov10:00 amScience Cinema - Disneynature’s “Bears”The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Whiteville - showtimes at 10 am, 12 pm & 2 pm

29nov11:30 am1:30 pmSCC Foundation Christmas Luncheon featuring USA Today bestselling author Nancy Naigle Book-signing is from 10:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

06:4717:11 EST
Feels like: 51°F
Wind: 5mph N
Humidity: 94%
Pressure: 30.21"Hg
UV index: 0
min 48°F

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