Florence death toll reaches 7 as storm weakens but torrential rainfall continues

Former Hurricane Florence that has now weakened to tropical storm status continued to dump rainfall over the Carolinas on Saturday, bringing with it expected storm surges, flooding and power outages.

The storm claimed its first victims mid-afternoon Friday with the news that a mother and her infant child had died after a tree fell on their house. The news was confirmed in a tweet by the Wilmington Police Department, @WilmingtonPD. The death toll has since risen to seven, according to local media reports. None of the victims has yet been identified.

The storm is now located about 35 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles an hour, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

“A turn toward the west-northwest and northwest is expected on Sunday,” the NHC said in its latest advisory. “Florence is forecast to turn northward through the Ohio Valley by Monday.”

The slow-moving storm was downgraded from a Category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale early Friday, but the Miami-based hurricane center warned that the downgrade does little to remove the high risk. Florence is bringing “catastrophic” fresh water flooding over a wide area of the Carolinas, it said.

The storm is weakening further as it moves inland over southeastern North Carolina but torrential rains will continue.

Weather Channel Hurricane Expert Dr. Rick Knabb said the storm is “not even close to being done with the coast.

“The center of Florence will linger near the coast for the next couple of days, continuing the life-threatening water and wind in communities near the beaches, sounds, and rivers of eastern North Carolina, that will increasingly worsen in coastal regions of South Carolina,” he said.

The North Carolina city of New Bern was the site of major flooding on Friday with at least 200 people being rescued, according to the Weather Channel, some of whom managed to climb to their rooftops. The authorities had issued mandatory evacuation orders for coastal areas, but not everyone was able to comply at short notice.

Florence is expected to dump more than 3 feet of rainfall on parts of coastal North Carolina. A storm surge is expected to push coastal waters up to 13 feet above ground, if it coincides with high tide. Winds and heavy rain are expected to move inland and to last for days.

“Life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding are likely over portions of the Carolinas and the southern and central Appalachians late this week into early next week, as Florence is expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland,” the NHC said.

Getty Images

South Carolinians as they hunkered down for the storm.

The hurricane is expected be the strongest storm to hit the region since Hurricane Hugo struck 29 years ago. The population of the Carolinas has grown by about 5 million people since then.

Rainfall over the Appalachians could lead to rock and mud slides, downing trees and saturating soil, it warned.

The hurricane had been forecast to be the strongest storm to hit the region since Hurricane Hugo struck 29 years ago. The population of the Carolinas has grown by about 5 million people since then.

Charlotte, N.C.–based utility Duke Energy

DUK, -0.55%

warned customers in the Carolinas to brace for power outages, which could take weeks to repair. About 1 million in the region have now in lost power, according to media reports.

A total of 2,090 flights have been canceled on Saturday, according to tracker FlightAware, the majority of them to towns and cities in the hurricane path. As many as 6,026 flights have been delayed.

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Meanwhile, the two storms that were churning behind Florence have weakened, easing concerns of a repeat of 2017’s record hurricane season, when the storms named Harvey, Irma and Maria caused more than $200 billion of losses, according to reinsurer Munich Re.

The storm known as Hurricane Helene was downgraded to a tropical storm, while the former Hurricane Isaac, has dissipated, according to the NHC.

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The Atlantic was not the only region experiencing storm conditions. The Pacific hurricane named Olivia was downgraded to a tropical depression. That storm is bad news for a Hawaii still cleaning up after Hurricane Lane caused massive rainfall, flooding and landslides in August.

As this chart illustrates, Hurricane Katrina, the storm that devastated New Orleans in 2005, remains the costliest ever for the U.S.:

But 2017’s trio of hurricanes combined to create a record season. Hurricane Harvey caused the most damage in Texas, where it poured more than 30 inches of rain on 6.9 million people, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, where its cost, both human and to property, is still being calculated.

CoreLogic, which tracks property data, estimates that the property damage from Florence could range from $3 billion and $5 billion in losses, if not higher. That estimate has been expanded to include a wind and storm surge but does not include insured losses related to rainfall, riverine or other flooding. (Read more on that at CoreLogic’s website.)

Among the insurers expected to bear the brunt of damages are State Farm, USAA and Nationwide Mutual, which control about 39% of the homeowner’s insurance market in the Carolinas and Virginia, according to CFRA analyst Cathy Seifert.

“Most homeowners’ policies in these states contain hurricane deductibles that can range from 1% to 5% of the homes’s insured value,” she wrote in a note.

That means a homeowner with a home insured for $600,000 and a 2% hurricane deductible would have to absorb $12,000 in damages before insurance kicked in. Standard homeowners’ policies do not cover flooding, however.

“Against this backdrop, Florence’s shifting nature will likely cause more economic damage to individual homeowners in the way Sandy’s storm surge did in 2012,” said Seifert.

Other property and casualty and car insurers were mostly higher Friday. Travelers

TRV, +0.92%

was up 0.5%, Allstate

ALL, +0.95%

rose 0.6%, Chubb

CB, +1.35%

was up 1% and Berkshire Hathaway

BRK.A, +1.06%

BRK.B, +0.69%

was up 0.7%.

And restaurant stocks like Cracker Barrel

CBRL, -1.95%

are also in the firing line. That stock was down 2.3% Friday.

On the other side of the equation, companies that offer goods and services needed in the run-up and aftermath of a storm were mixed. Home Depot

HD, -0.18%

was down 0.9%, Thor Industries

THO, +4.48%

was up 4%, Avis

CAR, +0.71%

was flat and United Rentals

URI, +1.26%

was up 0.7%, to name a few. Check out more companies that could get bumped higher here.

The S&P 500

SPX, +0.03%

and the Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, +0.03%

were up 0.3% early Friday.

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