Widespread flooding left in wake of Dennis

BY SUSAN KIM | Washington | September 6, 1999

Three feet of water still remains in many North Carolina homes, and a spin-off tornado that touched down

in Hampton, Va. displaced nearly 1,000 people and injured at least a dozen.

Despite reports of widespread flooding, the heavy rains provided a respite to many Mid-Atlantic residents

who have been coping with water restrictions as the result of a lengthy drought. While the storms have

been helpful in replenishing water supplies, weather forecasters warn, that much more rain is needed to

actually break the drought.

As Dennis' remnants continued to drift northward, most people are counting their blessings at the same

time they calculate damages. "Today is just beautiful," said the Rev. Ellis Bedsworth from his office at the

Trinity United Methodist Church in the town of Marshallberg on the North Carolina coast, as the clouds

disappeared Sunday.

"Years ago, I heard a man say he hoped he never died during a hurricane because the next day was always

so beautiful. Now I know what he meant. I'm sitting here, lookingat the water damage here in my office --

the roof has been leaking all week -- but I'm still grateful just to be here."

In nearby Davis, N.C., resident Richard Wade had a slightly different perspective. "We have just been

tormented by water," he said. "It rained for days, and the streets are still filled with water. The salt water

came up so far during high tide that it ruined crops and everyone's garden."

On Monday, Davis plans to volunteer, along with teams from churches and other community

organizations, to help clean debris out of people's yards. "A lot of people -- the elderly for example -- just

can't do that themselves."

Weather forecasters are also marveling at Dennis persistence and "staying power." Generally, tropical

storms affect a single area for 12 hours or less, including the approach and retreat.

Yet Dennis hung over the Carolina coast for nearly a week, and the extended rain and a nine-foot storm

surge caused flooding in many North Carolina communities. No significant injuries have yet been

reported there.

At the peak of the storm, more than 18 shelters were opened in nine North Carolina coastal counties.

The North Carolina Division of Emergency Management reported that some 150 homes were flooded in

Craven County and more than 100 in Pamlico County, where floodwaters were up to four feet deep, and

some county buildings were also flooded and diesel fuel spills and propane tanks are causing pollution


Reports also indicated that half of Ocracoke Island is flooded. The communities of Belhaven, Washington,

Washington Park, Aurora, Core Point, and Cedar Island were also hard-hit, and assessment teams are still

tallying damages.

Highway 12 -- the only route to North Carolina's Outer Banks -- was open to 4-wheel-drive vehicles

Sunday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to assist people from disaster field

offices throughout the state.

People on Hatteras Island who ignored evacuation orders six days ago were stranded again when

gale-force winds disrupted ferry service to the mainland. Earlier in the week, Dennis stranded some 5,000

people on Hatteras and elsewhere on the Outer Banks.

Scattered power outages are still reported in North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia. At the storm's peak,

nearly 5,000 people were without power in North Carolina. Although Dennis' sustained winds were

clocked at 70 mph Saturday, by Sunday winds in North Carolina dropped to 35 mph. The system has

continued to weaken as it travels over land.

But even before Dennis left North Carolina Sunday night, the storm caused spin-off tornadoes that

touched down in Virginia on Saturday. A tornado in Hampton, which touched down on Saturday,

damaged an assisted living center, nursing home, and two apartment buildings. The Red Cross has opened

shelters in two local schools to help house nearly 1,000 displaced people, and the Salvation Army and local

churches are helping to meet immediate needs.

A tornado also touched down in Chesapeake, Va., destroying a barn and downing power lines. Residents

there -- and in neighboring states as well -- are marveling that no one was killed. "This storm simply didn't

come on with as much force as it might have," said Tom Lamkin, a Morehead City, N.C. resident.

Heavy rains were hitting Philadelphia late Sunday, and residents there, and in Maryland and Virginia,

experienced a regional rarity of tropical 80-degree temperatures combined with rapidly shifting and

spinning clouds, localized spiking rain, and gusting winds. Rain could last in those areas through Tuesday.

There, even brief intervals of sunlight were cause for concern as weather forecasters warned that, as

sunshine warmed the air, the temperature rise increased the chances a tornado would form.

Virginia Power and the Potomac Electric Power Company reported a few thousand power outages

Sunday. Emergency response officials remain concerne d that, particularly in more mountainous areas,

torrential rains will cause flash flooding as water runs rapidly off the drought-hardened ground.

Throughout the past week, parts of the Southeast baked as temperatures soared way above seasonal

averages. Parts of Alabama reached record highs of 101 degrees, and Atlanta, Ga., hit 96.

Weather forecasters are also closely watching the seventh tropical depression of the season, formed in the

southwestern Gulf of Mexico late Sunday, which may hit northeastern Mexico as early as Monday evening

bringing heavy rain to that area. Tropical storm warnings are in effect along the Gulf coast of Mexico.

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