Idalia causes power outages, flooding, road closures in southeastern North Carolina

From staff reports

Tropical Storm Idalia left thousands of people in southeastern North Carolina without power Thursday morning as flooding and downed trees closed roads across the region.

About 2,600 utility customers in Columbus and Robeson counties were without power as of 9:40 a.m. Thursday, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety. The number dropped to about 1,700 by 11 a.m.

Whiteville in Columbus County saw some of the heaviest rainfall in the region, with 9.45 inches over a 24-hour period, the National Weather Service said Thursday morning.

Twenty-five roads in Columbus County were closed as of 9:15 a.m. Thursday, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

The Columbus County Sheriff’s Office said emergency workers pulled “multiple cars” from flooded roads overnight and Thursday morning. Officials urged residents to stay off roads “unless absolutely necessary.”

“If you see water crossing a road, do not drive through it,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post. “It only takes 12 inches of moving water to carry away most cars. If you see water on a road, turn around, don’t drown!”

In Robeson County, Lumberton saw less rain – 4.25 inches in 24 hours. Wind speeds reached 39 mph in the town, according to the National Weather Service.

Much of eastern North Carolina, including Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties, remained under a tropical storm warning Thursday morning as a weakened Idalia shifted east to the Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

Wind gusts could reach speeds of up to 37 mph in some areas on Thursday, forecasters say.

Videos and photos posted on social media show floodwaters and damage from the storm. One post shows rushing water on Gores Trailer Road in Whiteville.

In downtown Whiteville, a low-lying area prone to flooding, rising water covered streets and entered some businesses, according to The News Reporter.

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm.

Local school districts canceled classes or switched to remote learning on Thursday. Some counties said government offices will open later than usual on Thursday.

Idalia made landfall in Florida as a Category 3 hurricane just before 8 a.m. Wednesday and then lashed Georgia and the Carolinas as it headed up the East Coast.

Locally, emergency workers prepared for potential damage.

Whiteville firefighters block South Madison Street Thursday morning. Floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Idalia also closed southern sections of the central business district, seen in the distance. (Photo by Les High)