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Hurricane Florence puts thousands of homes at risk

Hazard experts expect Hurricane Florence to inflict widespread damage to homes and commercial property in the Carolinas, but the worst destruction may not come from the initial force of the storm on the coast, but rather from flooding inland in the days ahead.

The Category 1 storm made landfall on the North Carolina coast on Friday morning, lashing the coast with 90-mph winds and torrential rains. Although the force of the storm eased as it approached land, experts say Florence still has the potential to do billions of dollars in damage.

hurricaneflorence“I don’t see anybody in the Carolinas getting out of this,” said Tom Jeffery, the senior hazard scientist from CoreLogic.

“Even though the intensity may be reduced, I just don’t think we are going to get out of this without a lot of flooding and a lot of impact from that,” he told Scotsman Guide News during an interview Thursday.

CoreLogic has estimated that the damage to homes and commercial buildings from the storm surge and wind could total $3 billion to $5 billion. North Carolina will bear the brunt of this damage, with some 250,000 homes likely to be affected.

Florence at one point had the potential to hit the coast as a Category 5 hurricane. CoreLogic’s new damage estimate, published on Thursday, reflects the storm's progression by slightly downgrading the original damage estimate. In North Carolina, CoreLogic now projects that the damage could total between $1.5 and $4.5 billion; and between $300 to $500 million in South Carolina.

However, that estimate doesn’t include the potential damage from inland flooding.

“There is a tremendous amount of risk [from Hurricane Florence],” Jeffery said. “At that point, it really is based on how much precipitation falls. I have heard reports of 30 inches.

"So, you have more than two feet of rainfall. It is not like it can fall like in a normal situation, where it will start to outflow right away, and move off land and into the basins and into the ocean. It is a situation where whatever falls is likely going to start to fill up even further the areas that are, for lack of a better term, flooded by the storm surge.”   

The slow moving nature of Florence presents a huge risk to inland communities, Jeffery said. Should the storm linger, Florence will continuously pump a massive volume water toward the coast, choking the rivers and preventing the river basins from draining. That, combined with heavy rainfall, would cause the floods.

“All of this water is being pushed onshore, while it is dropping precipitation farther inland,” Jeffery said. “The precipitation has nowhere to go. It has nowhere to go because the storm surge is pushing inland at the same time.”

Jeffery said a similar scenario played out during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which hit the coast of New Jersey as a Category 1 hurricane, but did catastrophic damage, primarily in New York and New Jersey. Sandy’s damage toll was around $70 billion, one of the costliest storms on record.

“It was a very low-intensity storm, but it was a large wind field and it pushed a lot of storm surge as it moved very slowly, and it ended up pushing a lot of water on shore over a long period of time, and it had precipitation involved as well,” Jeffery said.


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