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Hurricane Florence Arrives In South Carolina


Florence took a slight westerly turn after the hurricane came ashore in North Carolina. While it has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, it is continuing to douse the state. The storm's rain bands and heavy winds are moving into South Carolina now, and Florence has slowed to a crawl, moving slower than most people can walk. That is not good news for the Carolinas as the weekend progresses. In Myrtle Beach, S.C., so far things have not been terrible. That's where NPR's Rebecca Hersher is stationed, and she joins us now. Hi, Becky.


SHAPIRO: What's going on there in Myrtle Beach?

HERSHER: Well, a lot of wind, a lot of rain and not a lot of electricity. So, you know, there was a lot of lead time with this storm. Residents here on the coast - they were warned to evacuate on Tuesday. So Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, all focus was on Florence - people boarding up their houses, people filling gas cans, people evacuating. And the rain really started here today. So you have people just exhausted, frankly.


HERSHER: Everyone I meet is like, can this be over? And the answer is, no, we're really just the beginning of the serious rain, the serious wind for this part of the country.

SHAPIRO: Right. The rain is expected to continue through the weekend, heavy downpours for extended periods of time. Does that mean things are going to get worse?

HERSHER: Yep, yeah, unfortunately. The rain is going to continue all weekend, and the area I'm in is up the road from Myrtle Beach. It's a popular tourist destination, beach community. And it's very, very flat. It's actually hard to overstate how flat this is, how boggy this area is. So as the rain continues to fall, these marshy areas - they start to flood. The water starts to come up.

And the South Carolina Department of Transportation is worried that roads could flood as the rivers here rise. This area has one major river that could cut off the coastal communities, including Myrtle Beach, from the National Guard and emergency vehicles, which would sort of be a worst-case scenario. If there's a lot of inland flooding and coastal flooding, you have people who are cut off from sort of basic services in the next few days.

SHAPIRO: Right. We know that some people have already died in this storm. What are the biggest threats going into the weekend?

HERSHER: It's the flooding. You know, freshwater flooding is the big killer in hurricanes. I think the wind speed really gets a lot of attention because it's how we name the categories - you know, Category 1, 2, 3. But inland flooding, freshwater flooding from rain is the killer. And so this kind of rain sustained over many, many days is super dangerous.

And the other thing to remember is the length of this storm, the fact that it's unfolding over such a long period of time is dangerous all on its own because it has emergency systems stressed. It means that normal things - heart attacks, car accidents, you cut your hand with the knife when you're in the kitchen - there is no one to respond if everyone is in emergency mode for the hurricane for a week or more. So the hurricane can be dangerous even if your particular house is not flooded.

SHAPIRO: Myrtle Beach is a tourist destination, and this time of year, there would usually be people enjoying the beach as well as year-round residents. Who is there now? Have most people evacuated?

HERSHER: That's a great question. We actually went to Myrtle Beach downtown today to see, and the tourists seem to have taken the evacuation orders pretty seriously. I didn't see any tourists around. We went to a shelter - didn't see any tourists there. You know, folks have had a lot of time. And, you know, the warning has been pretty serious. And so people who are on vacation - they left. Hotels are boarded up. You know, electricity is out.

Up the road, though, there are multiple hotels full of sort of stragglers, locals who couldn't or didn't leave and electric utility crews. We've seen these all over the state actually getting ready, sort of hunkering down with their trucks. And they're ready to start repairing electrical lines as soon as the winds die down. Unfortunately that probably won't be for days.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Rebecca Hersher covering now Tropical Storm Florence from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Thank you.

HERSHER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.