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Hurricane Floyd slams South Carolina

The Associated Press

WILMINGTON, N.

Thursday, September 16, 1999

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Hurricane Floyd tore ashore today near Cape Fear with winds of 110 mph, flooding the coasts of North and South Carolina as tens of thousands of people huddled in shelters.

The eye of the huge storm arrived on the U.S. mainland at about 3 a.m., preceded by hours of violent weather that included more than a foot of rain and several tornadoes. More than 480,000 utility customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were without power.

”I’ve never been in nothing like this before,” said Norma Childers, 62, a retired Rustburg, Va., nurse who came to North Carolina on vacation and was in Wilmington’s Marriott Courtyard Hotel when it lost power this morning. ”I’m getting too much fuss from my children. They’re at home. They think that’s where I’m supposed to be.”

At 8 a.m., the storm was centered 40 east of Greenville and moving at 23 mph to the north-northeast.

The hurricane was expected to churn across southeastern Virginia, then out to sea along the coasts of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey before nearing New York’s Long Island early Friday. Disaster preparations were being made in New York City, Massachusetts’ Cape Cod and along the coast of Maine.

Hurricane warnings were posted as far north as Plymouth, Mass. Public schools were closed for the day across New Jersey and in New York City.

In Portsmouth, Va., flooding from the storm and power failures combined to shut down the city’s water supply system early today, police Sgt. Elizabeth Romero said. The system supplies 110,000 customers.

The rain had stopped near Wilmington. There were still brisk gusts, and black clouds floated quickly overhead, but the sun already was poking through.

Along the Intercoastal Waterway in Wilmington, porpoises gently swam seaward past a 34-foot fishing boat that was thrown onto land across from Wrightsville Beach island. Surprisingly, there appeared to be little other damage on the mainland, aside from some road flooding and buckled piers.

Authorities had urged more than 2.6 million people along the southern Atlantic coast to clear out of Floyd’s path – the biggest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history.

”It sounds like people are taking this seriously indeed and we’re quite please with that,” said forecaster Jack Beven at the National Hurricane Center.

While the storm delivered only a glancing blow to Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday, it still forced the cancellation of hundreds of airline flights. Amtrak suspended all train service south of Washington.

One death was attributed to the storm in North Carolina – a person died when a car hydroplaned on wet roads Wednesday afternoon and crashed. A second person was presumed dead after being swept away by flooding near Greenville. One person was missing in the Bahamas.

When Floyd hit the coast near Cape Fear – about 25 miles south of Wilmington – the Category 2 storm was moving north-northeast at 20 mph. Floyd’s winds were down from a peak of nearly 155 mph at its core when it battered the Bahamas and were expected to weaken as it moved over land.

By nightfall Wednesday, areas of the North Carolina coast had up to 16 inches of rain. Wilmington got 13 inches of rain, flooding streets and low-lying areas.

Two twisters damaged homes and churches, but no injuries were reported.

As the storm passed, there were a few trees down and limbs on roadways in Wilmington.

Calvin McGowan smoked a fat cigar as he checked to see how his 34-foot fishing boat, the Monitor, weathered the storm. In 1996, during Hurricane Fran, the boat was thrown several hundred yards and wound up upside down in a neighbor’s yard.

”It was an exciting night. The sun’s coming up now, so it’ll be an exciting day,” he said. ”Today’s the day. Well, yesterday was the day.”

Hurricane-strength gusts of 80 mph earlier buffeted Charleston, S.C., and more than 200,000 people in the area lost power. More than 15 inches of rain fell on Myrtle Beach by midnight, and authorities said they had never seen such severe flooding.

Earlier, in northern and central Florida, Floyd snapped power lines, smashed piers into driftwood and knocked out electricity to 300,000 people. About 350 miles off the coast, the Navy and Coast Guard rescued eight people whose tugboat sank in 30-foot seas churned up by the hurricane.

Floyd made a northward turn that spared Florida and Georgia the catastrophic damage many had feared. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and its four shuttles were largely unscathed.

Terry Hurley, checking into a Wilmington shelter with his wife and two children, said his family stayed home for Hurricanes Fran and Bertha in 1996, but not for Floyd.

”They talk like this one is going to be pretty mean,” he said. ”It’s got everybody shook up.”

Myrtle Beach authorities imposed a 3 p.m. curfew and turned off the water supply. The hospital sent its patients inland but kept a doctor and three nurses on emergency duty.

South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges banned price gouging on essential items, threatening fines up to $100 or 30 days in jail.

The last time South Carolina took a direct hit from a major hurricane was almost exactly 10 years ago, when Hugo struck near Charleston with 135 mph winds. The storm killed 29 people and caused $5.9 billion in damage, the most costly hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland until Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992.

At the Wilmington Marriott, Lynn and Gail Wilmer of Lynchburg, Va., sat with Ms. Childers as the storm roared outside. The three friends had arrived for a vacation on the beach, only to be forced into Wilmington on Wednesday.

Wilmer, 54, in his stocking feet, was recharging an oxygen concentrator on the generator lighting the lobby – the hotel’s only power.

”As soon as this is over with, I’m heading back up to Raleigh to spend some time with some friends,” the retired restaurant manager said as he gasped for air. ”I’ve had enough of the beach.”

Added Wally Jones, a security guard for the hotel: ”We like Fs. Fran ruined us, so Floyd had to come.”