Florence death toll takes heart-wrenching turn
A ONE-year-old boy ripped from his mother's arms by fierce floodwaters in North Carolina has become the latest devastating victim of Tropical Storm Florence - as the death toll may now be as high as 20, officials have estimated.
The lifeless body of Kaiden Lee-Welch was recovered by rescue workers on Monday morning (local time), one day after the toddler and his mother were caught in heavy flooding while driving along a closed road to a relative's home, the New York Post reports.
Kaiden's mother, who has not been named publicly, was driving along North Carolina Highway 218 on Sunday when they encountered a barricade across the roadway, the Union County North Carolina Sheriff's Office said.
The woman wove past the barricade, later telling authorities that she thought the road beyond was clear because the barrier was pushed slightly to the side.
But they drove head on into rising floodwaters so forceful that their car was pushed off the road and pinned against a group of trees.
The mother managed to free Kaiden from his car seat and escape the car, but her child was quickly swept away in the deluge.
Rescue teams spent much of Sunday afternoon and night in a desperate search for the boy, but it wasn't until Monday morning that the grim find of the child's body was made near a flooded soybean field, according to The Charlotte Observer.
The heartbreaking death has come just after three-month-old Kade Gill was killed on Sunday when a falling tree crushed the family's mobile home in Dallas, North Carolina.
SEVERE FLOOD WARNINGS CONTINUE
The storm, which is blamed for the deaths of at least 19 people, but with reports of up to 20, still had abundant rain and top winds around 50kph on Monday.
Forecasters said it was expected to gradually pick up forward speed and complete a big turn toward the Northeast, which is in for as much as 15 centimetres of rain.
Flooding worries increased in West Virginia and Virginia, where roads were closed and power outages were on the rise. About 500,000 homes and businesses were in the dark.
In some places, the rain stopped after Florence moved on, and the sun peeked through, but North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urged residents who were evacuated from the hardest-hit areas to stay away because of closed roads and flooding.
"There's too much going on," he told a news conference.
Emergency workers delivered truckloads of food and water to Wilmington, a city of 120,000 people mostly cut off from the rest of North Carolina by Florence's still-rising floodwaters, as helicopters and boat pulled people from homes swamped by swollen rivers.
Florence was still massive, despite being downgraded to a tropical depression from a once-fearsome Category 4 hurricane.
Radar showed parts of the sprawling storm over six states, with North and South Carolina in the bullseye. North Carolina emergency response officials tweeted that 23 truckloads of military meals and bottled water were delivered overnight to Wilmington, the state's eighth-largest city.
One route into the city was reopened by midday on Monday, officials said, but it wasn't clear which road was open and whether it available to the general public.
Signs on a flooded highway leading out of town said "ROAD CLOSED," and many streets that weren't flooded were blocked by fallen timber. The smell of cracked pine trees wafted through hard-hit neighbourhoods.
Residents waited for hours outside stores and restaurants for water and other basic necessities. Police guarded the door of one store, and only 10 people were allowed inside at a time.
Desperate for gas to run a generator at home, Nick Monroe waited in a kilometre-long line at a Speedway station even though the pumps were wrapped in plastic. His power went off on Thursday before Florence hit the coast, but he couldn't recall exactly when.
"It's all kind of a blur," Mr Monroe said.
The Defence Department said about 13,500 military personnel were assigned to help relief efforts.
Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate homes along rivers.
A version of this article originally appeared in the New York Post and was republished with permission.