(AP) — The death toll from Hurricane Florence climbed to at least 37, including two mental health patients who drowned when a sheriff’s van was swept away by floodwaters, and North Carolina’s governor pleaded with thousands of evacuees not to return home just yet.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, arrived in storm-ravaged North Carolina on Wednesday, visiting a church in the hard-hit coastal of town New Bern where volunteers have been handing out food to storm victims.
Wilmington, population 120,000, was still mostly an island surrounded by floodwaters, and people waited for hours Tuesday for handouts of food, water, and tarps.
Thousands of others around the state waited in shelters for the all-clear.
“I know it was hard to leave home, and it is even harder to wait and wonder whether you even have a home to go back to,” Governor Roy Cooper said.
After submerging North Carolina with nearly 3 feet of rain, the storm dumped more than 6.5 inches of rain in the Northeast, where it caused flash flooding.
Cooper warned that the flooding is far from over and will get worse in places.
Addressing roughly 10,000 people who remain in shelters and “countless more” staying elsewhere, Cooper urged them to stay put for now, particularly those from the hardest-hit coastal counties that include Wilmington, near where Florence blew ashore on Friday.
Roads remain treacherous, he said, and some are still being closed for the first time as rivers swelled by torrential rains inland drain toward the Atlantic.
At least 27 of the deaths happened in North Carolina.
In South Carolina, two women died on Tuesday evening after a van taking the mental health patients from one facility to another was overtaken by rising floodwaters near the Little Pee Dee River, authorities said.
The risk of environmental damage mounted, as human and animal waste was washed into the swirling floodwaters.