After making landfall, the hurricane took dozens of lives and wrecked coastal infrastructure.
Hurricane Florence made landfall in South Carolina on September 14 as a Category 1 hurricane after fluctuating back and forth between a Category 4 (more severe) and a tropical depression (less). The greatest danger it posed was not in the form of extreme winds and storm damage, but in the floodwaters brought to the lowlands near rivers and coastal regions.
In the week before the storm, the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland declared states of emergency. Virginia, North and South Carolina then issued mandatory evacuation orders for certain areas likely to be most affected by the storm.
Many people were able to leave, but some lacked the means to pack up and flee. Some people were completely unable to evacuate rural areas for lack of cars. Prisoners were not evacuated.
“South Carolina officials have repeatedly urged coastal residents to flee Hurricane Florence, warning of danger and even death,” wrote The New York Times, adding, “But they have rejected calls to move the inmates of a state prison in a mandatory evacuation zone [even though] the area is under an evacuation order issued by Gov. Henry McMaster.”
Reverend William Barber, in an interview with Democracy Now!, stated, “Before the hurricane, poor people and low-wealth people had a storm.” This is part of his larger criticism of government actions, not just in the context of Florence but in the ability of the social structures to respond to a crisis. “This state has refused federal money that would have helped the poor prior to the storm, so that they would have buffers against the storm. So we have two hurricanes — the hurricane of poverty and lack of healthcare and lack of living wages that existed prior to the storm, and then we have the storm, and now everything that was already tough for people has been exacerbated.”
His view is that the governments have failed to take care of the poorest citizens, who are least able to take preventative actions to ensure their safety.
40 people have been reported dead as of the writing of this article. 24 died in ways that were directly related to the storm, either drowning or being caught in floods, and 16 died in ways that were indirectly related.
Notably, two female mental health patients were being transferred to a different correctional facility in a van by two police officers. When the van was swept off the highway into flood waters, the officers were able to escape but could not rescue the women in the back, who were chained to the van. An investigation of the incident is currently underway.
This natural disaster ravaged shores on the east coast as studies have recently revealed that 2,975 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, which impacted Puerto Rico this time last year. The federal government has come under criticism for failing to provide adequate support for the people there due to FEMA losing significant funding and profiteering scandals interrupting the effort to provide bottled water, electricity and medical help to the island.
As the remnants of Florence continue inland, flooding in the lowlands is expected to continue.