SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Tropical Storm Florence is pummeling the Southeast today with life-threatening storm surges and strong winds. At least five deaths have been linked to the storm, including a mother and her baby. That number is expected to climb. Flooding is expected to get worse today. Much of the North Carolina city of New Bern remains under water. About 200 people have been pulled from their homes. NPR's Brakkton Booker is there. Brakkton, thanks so much for being with us.
BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Yeah. Absolutely, Scott.
SIMON: We've certainly seen pictures on social media and television of a city that literally seems underwater. What's it look like on the ground?
BOOKER: Well, Scott, depending on where you are in New Bern, there's not much ground to see. Obviously, there are trees that are down from the storm. Nearly all the power is out in the city. And even an entire front facade of a Piggly Wiggly supermarket store has been blown completely off and is laying on the ground.
But it's the water that's the real issue here. It's flowing all over the - all over the city and spilling into neighborhoods. I've got some tape for you of two New Bern residents describing how they escaped water coming into their home. Here's Shanitra Jones (ph) and Annie Williams (ph). Williams speaks first.
ANNIE WILLIAMS: It was water up in my house all the way up to - you know, I had to go up - we had to go up in the attic.
SHANITRA JONES: Put her dresser down there.
JONES: And stepped on the dresser and got up there.
JONES: Had to do teamwork.
BOOKER: So, Scott, my producer and I - Liz Baker - we're driving around New Bern. And we saw homes that were easily 3 to 4 feet - with water 3 to 4 feet surrounding them. And what we saw was probably not the worst because we're told that some neighborhoods are only accessible by boat.
SIMON: Reports are there've been 200 water rescues so far to get people out of their homes. Are the rescues still going on?
BOOKER: Yeah. Those rescues have been taking place around-the-clock since Thursday night when the storm surge from Florence began to flow over the banks of the Neuse and Trent Rivers, where New Bern sits. Officials tell me that at one point on Friday, they got the rescue queue down to about 40. When the water levels began to rise again, then they got another hundred calls for help. And New Bern is under a 24-hour curfew, and that's to keep streets clear so that rescue efforts can continue.
And New Bern officials tell me that rescue teams from Texas to Massachusetts have assisted local authorities. And also, the Louisiana's famed Cajun Navy has also sent volunteers to help. And at one point, they actually put out volunteers for local folks to bring their boats to assist with the rescue efforts.
SIMON: Craven County - that's where New Bern is - had a mandatory evacuation order days before the storm made landfill (ph). But everybody makes an individual decision. Why did some people stay?
BOOKER: Well, yeah. The evacuation order was put in place on Tuesday. And I will tell you that many residents did evacuate. They did heed the calls. But the city, as I said, sits in this confluence of two rivers, so New Bern residents are used to a bit of flooding. They just tell me that they never saw it to this extent.
So, yes, some underestimated Florence's magnitude, but others made a calculated decision - whether it's too difficult to move elderly parents to a shelter, or for, you know, others it was a financial reason. You know, renting a hotel for days, maybe even a week or longer, is expensive. And then there's the anxiety if you do leave your home, not knowing how much damage there is and when you would be able to get back to assess that damage.
SIMON: Brakkton, what do you think is the biggest concern for people in New Bern now that the storm is over but the flooding certainly is not?
BOOKER: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's not just New Bern, Scott. I mean, this region has been inundated with Florence. So cities all over this region and areas south of here, like Jacksonville, N.C., where Marine Base Camp Lejeune sits, and Wilmington and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina - those places are experiencing heavy rains and are expected to get hit for hours today.
So there are fears that with all this rain being dumped, inland rivers and tributaries will swell, causing even more catastrophic flooding in the days ahead.
SIMON: NPR's Brakkton Booker in New Bern, N.C. Brakkton, thanks so much for being with us.
BOOKER: Thank you.
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