State

Florence victims: They were mothers and sons, spouses and grandparents

For many who died during Hurricane Florence, their stories were never told. The oldest storm victim was 88, the youngest just three months old.
The often-repeated casualty statistic - 59 people dead - from Hurricane Florence is stark but doesn’t capture the full story.

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The Storm’s Path

The Charlotte Observer and The Raleigh News & Observer go deep into one of the deadliest hurricanes and the all-time costliest storm to strike North Carolina. Our investigation retraces Hurricane Florence’s destructive steps to ask: Are we ready for the next one?


Fifty-nine dead, and counting.

That‘s the official statistic from Hurricane Florence. But it doesn’t capture the full story of the storm’s human toll.

For close to a week last September, Florence churned in the Atlantic on a collision course with the Carolinas’ coast. And when the cyclone finally hit, it spun off tornadoes and devolved into wall of rain that creeped across three states, flooding inland and coastal communities alike.

Highways became death traps with flash floods and washed-out pavement. One person was killed while delivering bottled water to the flood-stricken communities. Many other people were fatally injured on the road while trying to escape the hurricane’s path.

Even those who took cover in their own homes were imperiled. Some died in their sleep. Another died while checking on his hunting dogs at the height of the storm. And many died alone.

In the case of one man who was killed on a highway while evacuating, officials say he’s been cremated but they cannot find his family or anyone to claim his remains.

To learn more about the people who lost their lives in Florence, reporters from five news organizations — The Charlotte Observer, The (Raleigh) News & Observer, The (Columbia) State and The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News and The (Durham) Herald-Sun — interviewed family members, friends and co-workers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Reporters retraced Hurricane Florence’s destructive steps through obituaries, autopsy reports, accident investigations and documents from state health officials.

For many, their stories had not been told until now.

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Johnny Ray Capps was one of the first people to die as Hurricane Florence made landfall. Hope Valley Hawkins Funeral Service

A brewing storm

Even before Florence’s official landfall, two people in North Carolina died. Both involved evacuation.

The morning of Sept. 13, Kenny Ray Davis, a 61-year-old homeless man from Wilmington, was killed while riding his moped away from the coast.

A few hours later, Johnny Ray Capps, 62, a mobile home salesman, died of a heart attack at his home in Newton Grove. State health officials said he collapsed while helping someone else evacuate. More information was not available.

Day One

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Kobe Batts, a 7-month-old, suffocated overnight during Hurricane Florence after his family rearranged sleeping arrangements during the storm. Facebook photo.

As Florence’s rain and winds pushed in on Sept. 14, the storm claimed the life of one of its youngest victims.

Kobe Batts was just 7 months old. His family changed their sleeping arrangements due to the storm, and he died in a bed-sharing accident on Sept. 14, state health records show.

The state’s medical examiner found Kobe, who weighed 21 pounds when he died, had previously been a healthy baby. An autopsy report concluded the infant likely suffocated in his sleep. His parents told investigators they typically would lay Kobe to sleep on his own but decided to make a temporary bed on the floor so they could all sleep near one another during the storm.

Kobe had woken up to eat at around 4 a.m., his mother said, and then she laid back down with him, Kobe sleeping in between his parents. When she woke up again at 7 a.m., she found her baby was not breathing and Kobe was wrapped tightly in a blanket.

Police and EMS in Wilson, N.C., found the baby unresponsive. Doctors attempted to save his life at the hospital but Kobe died. The medical examiner’s office concluded the baby’s death was, in part, caused by Florence.

Kinston man electrocuted

Just two hours after the eye of Florence reached North Carolina, Willie Outlaw Jr., 68, stepped out of his house in Kinston to plug in a generator.

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Willie Outlaw was electrocuted at his home while attempting to plug in a generator Albritton-Carraway Funeral Home

According to a North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office, Outlaw attempted to connect two extension cords while standing in his yard in two inches of floodwater that Friday morning. One of the cords went out from the house, the other from the generator in a shed behind the house.

As Outlaw connected the cords, he was electrocuted. Paramedics noted electrical burns on his left hand and chest.

He went to check on his dogs and never came back

During any bad storm, Bennie Sutton always checked on his hunting dogs. That’s what his wife told authorities after Sutton, 77, was found dead in their yard in Kinston, N.C.

Sutton had gone out around midnight to check on his dogs. He climbed in his truck and directed the headlights toward the dog cage.

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Bennie Sutton, 77, of Kinston, died overnight after Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina. The medical examiner said he had a chronic health issue, made worse by the storm. Albritton-Carraway Funeral Home

The truck was still running, the lights still on, in the morning when Sutton’s wife awoke. She couldn’t find him in the house or in the truck. One of his daughters found him behind a shed, unresponsive, according to a report from the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office.

The official cause of death, according to an autopsy, was chronic illness exacerbated by hurricane force winds.

In an interview with the Associated Press after Sutton’s death, his wife, Marian, remembered her husband as a kind, friendly family man. His pastor told the AP Sutton was the cook for church’s boxed lunch fundraisers and could be found manning the grill each time at 2:30 in the morning — always faithful and prompt so lunch would never be late.

Mother, baby die from downed tree

In Wilmington, a mother and son were sleeping as a tragedy unfolded at their home.

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Lesha Murphy-Johnson and her 7-month-old son Adam were killed Friday, Sept. 14, when a tree fell on their home in Wilmington, N.C. Contributed

Lesha Murphy-Johnson was the mother of three daughters, but she wanted a son, too. In 2017, it happened: “She finally got her boy,” her sister told The News & Observer last September. “She always wanted a boy.”

The day she died, at 41, Murphy-Johnson was with her baby boy, Adam Johnson, a seven-month old infant. They were together in their home when a tree crashed through the roof.

At the time, Murphy-Johnson and her baby son were sleeping in her bedroom. A large tree fell and landed on top of the mother’s torso, pinning her to the bed, according to the medical examiner’s report.

The tree broke several of her ribs and left bruises and abrasions throughout her body. When first responders reached the mother and son, both were already dead.

They found Murphy-Johnson “essentially on top” of baby Adam, according to the medical examiner’s report. It was as if the mother was trying to shield and protect her baby.

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House fire in power outage kills 2

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Pat and Trish Flanagan, of Fayetteville, died in a house fire caused by candles on Sept. 14, 2018. Neighbors said the Flanagan’s had lost electricity in their home during widespread power outages caused by Hurricane Florence. Contributed photo.

For more than 60 years, Pat and Trish Flanagan were inseparable as a couple, crisscrossing the globe, raising two sons, and settling in Fayetteville, N.C., for a happy retirement.

“They did everything together,” said their son Chip, who lives in Texas. “They weren’t sedentary. They just kind of fell in love with Fayetteville and the people.”

The Flanagans died together on Sept. 14. They were both 86.

After Florence’s landfall, Pat asked neighbors if he could borrow any lanterns, according to the medical examiner’s report. Their home had lost power.

Hours later, a fire broke out at Pat and Trish Flanagan’s home.

Investigators said burning candles caused the fire. The couple died of smoke inhalation before the fire could be extinguished.

Cafe manager killed in Upstate

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Amber Dawn Millwood-Lee, 61, was killed in Upstate South Carolina in a car accident. Facebook photo

In South Carolina, Florence battered the coast and even more than 200 miles inland, communities felt tropical storm force winds.

Amber Dawn Millwood Lee, 61, had just ended her shift serving customers at The Café in Jonesville, S.C., where she’d taken over as manager of the family business.

The Wofford College graduate hopped into her 2007 Chevrolet pickup truck and was on her way to see her fiancé, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

It was around 9:40 p.m. on Sept. 14. Lee headed north on Gaffney Highway, as she had done many times before. But just ahead, a pine tree had snapped and fallen across the roadway.

Police say a man was near the road, trying to alert on-coming traffic with a flashlight when he saw Lee approaching. But she never stopped.

She was killed after colliding with the fallen tree, which caused the front end of her truck to jump six feet in the air and slam back down before careening off the right side of the road.

Day Two

In the middle of the night, Raymond Trybek decided it was time to go.

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Raymond Trybeck, 81, died in Goldsboro, N.C., while trying to evacuate from Hurricane Florence. Seymour Funeral Home

Florence had touched down about 100 miles away, and Trybek was worried about predictions of bad flooding near his home in Goldsboro.

The retired U.S. Air Force major was on the phone with a friend around 1:30 a.m., Sept. 15, and they made a plan to meet at Trybek’s home.

But while packing to evacuate, the 81-year-old fell and fatally struck his head, according to information from the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office. When his friend arrived, he found Trybek dead on his bedroom floor.

More than 200 miles away that same morning, in upstate South Carolina, Florence’s rains were just beginning to take their toll.

A mom wonders, ‘What if?’

Cara Barlowe remembers her son’s dream of owning his own business. At 25, she said, Tyler Stramaglia seemed like he’d finally found his footing in life.

His teenage and early adult years were hard, she says, and Stramaglia struggled to adjust after his parents divorced and he moved with his mom to North Carolina from Canada. But in the last few years, Cara says, “Everything finally started coming together.”

Then, she got a phone call from the North Carolina Highway Patrol on Sept. 15.

The trooper, Barlowe remembers, said “there was a wreck.” Early that morning, Stramaglia’s yellow Nissan Xterra had slid off a wet road and overturned in Gastonia.

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Tyler Stramaglia’s yellow Nissan Xterra slid off a wet road and overturned in Gastonia, N.C., after heavy rains from Hurricane Florence. Contributed photo.

First responders found the mangled SUV wrapped around a power pole on Beaty Road. Barlowe could hear the heaviness in the state trooper’s voice on the other end of the line as she asked, “Well, how he is? ...

Stramaglia was killed almost instantly, according to an autopsy report. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. A friend who was with him and who was driving Stramaglia’s car survived.

Later, he told Stramaglia’s mother the two of them were headed to work that morning on a landscaping job. Barlowe says it had been her son’s hope in recent months to start his own lawn care company.

“He would work sometimes 12 or 13 hours a day,” she said.

Now, she and other family members have a lot of “what if’s.” She wonders why her son was headed to work in bad weather.

The day before, Stramaglia had written on his Facebook page: “Just wanted to say I hope everyone is and stays safe and inside during the storm regardless of how big or small it is.”

Father of 6 suffers heart failure after storm

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Julito Medina had heart problems. He died while surveying his home for storm damage. Sayland Funeral Home


By 8 a.m., Florence’s high-power winds were moving away from Onslow County, N.C., and Julito Medina told his wife he was stepping outside to survey their home’s damage from the storm.

As he stepped through the door, his wife, Giselle, heard “a loud unintelligible holler,” according to a medical examiner’s report. Giselle Medina also heard her husband fall. Then, she found him just outside of the door, unresponsive.

An ambulance was nearby but unable to access Medina’s house because of flooded roadways. Instead, the local fire department’s first responders handled the call. They attempted resuscitation, without success.

Medina, a father of six boys, died from heart disease, according to the medical examiner. He was 56.

Medina’s obituary said he and his family moved to North Carolina from Brooklyn to raise their children.

Generator poisoned couple’s home

In the days after Mark King and Debbie Rion died of carbon monoxide poisoning, their son described his parents’ relationship as like the love story from “The Notebook.”

Rion, 61, and King, 63, met as teenagers, said their son Justin King.

The two fell in love and had two children. Later, King said, his parents fell out of love. But after decades apart passed, Mark King and Debbie Rion decided to get back together.

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Mark King and Debbie Rion died together in their home in Loris, S.C. Contributed photos.

“They were great parents, and even better grandparents,” Justin King said.

The couple died on Sept. 15, 2018 in Loris, S.C.

After losing power at their home during Florence, they used a generator. Officials later said King and Rion died from carbon monoxide emitted by the generator.

Rion was well-known in the community as she taught at Daisy Elementary School for more than 30 years. King sold cars at the Bell and Bell Buick GMC dealership.

‘She didn’t know the road wasn’t there’

After moving from New Jersey almost 45 years ago, Dolores Cecil Brock had spent more than half of her life in eastern North Carolina.

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Dolores Cecil Brock, 79, died in Duplin County. Community Funeral Home of Beulaville

Brock worked as a home health nurse, and since retiring more than a dozen years ago, she pursed her twin passions: sewing clothes for her six grandchildren, and trying her luck with lottery scratch-offs, said her brother Robert Cecil.

She was killed Sept. 15 as she tried to drive across a flooded road in Kenansville. Brock was 79.

Her car overturned and went under in a part of the road that had been washed out. Robert Cecil says he doesn’t know where his sister was trying to go but believes she may have been on the way to a convenience store.

“She didn’t make it a quarter mile,” her brother said. “About 5 to 6 feet of the highway was missing and she didn’t know the road wasn’t there.”

Day Three

There were eight fatal car wrecks total attributed to Hurricane Florence on Sept. 16 in North and South Carolina.

‘Road closed’ sign moved before fatal wreck

On Plantersville Road in Georgetown, S.C. — about four miles past the “road closed” sign that had been moved off the pavement — a pickup truck carrying three people hit standing water, hydroplaned and overturned several times, killing passenger Michael Dalton Prince.

State authorities had closed the road due to flooding.

Prince was riding in a truck around 2:30 a.m., Sept. 16, when the vehicle hit ankle-deep water while moving nearly 60 miles per hour, according to S.C. Department of Public Safety. After hydroplaning, the truck skidded off the right side of the road and overturned several times. The pickup came to a final rest upside down, partially submerged in a flooded ditch.

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Michael Dalton Prince died Sept. 16, 2018, when the car he was riding in hit flood waters. Police officials later said the road was known to be dangerous and was closed but a barrier to keep cars from driving through had been moved prior to the fatal wreck. Facebook photo.

A 911 call from the accident scene indicates Prince and a female passenger were trapped inside the truck as bystanders attempted to give their location to emergency dispatch workers.

“There’s two people still trapped. There’s one person screaming, they’re under water and they’re upside down. The other person in the truck hasn’t made a noise,” said one person on the phone with 911.

Later, a man talking with dispatch said: “We’re trying to get the door open to get them out. The door won’t open.”

It took 17 minutes for Georgetown EMS to reach the overturned truck, public records show. Flooded roadways blocked the route, forcing two different units to turn around and find another way. When the crews arrived, they used heavy-duty equipment to extract Prince and an injured passenger from the truck.

The driver escaped the flooded truck, but Prince drowned before emergency medical workers arrived.

Wilmington cowboy, pool hustler dies in flood

For most of his 80-year long life, Josh Albert Moore Jr. was accustomed to beating the odds, making a living caroming and snookering his way around the country on the competitive billiards circuit.

“That’s how he made his living when I met him,” said his wife, Belinda Hatchett Moore. “In the first 10, 12 years of our marriage, he did nothing but hustle pool.”

Moore lost his life while evacuating Wilmington on Sept. 16. He and his family had headed west to Eden, following back roads on their navigation system, when they came across a bridge inundated by floodwaters in Kenansville.

It was around 3 a.m., according to the state medical examiner’s office. Josh Moore was riding in the backseat.

With their 32-year-old son, Joseph, behind the wheel, their car was caught in swift currents and was pinned against nearby trees. Joseph Moore was able to carry his mother back to the street, momentarily leaving his father and a pet dog inside.

Then a tow truck appeared and offered to pull the Moores’ car, with Josh Moore inside, back to safety. As the truck gave a tug, though, the cable was stressed too much. The car flipped upside down and went under.

“It was a tragic mistake,” said Kenansville Police Chief James Ryan Strickland.

He said the tow truck driver panicked and vanished. No charges were filed.

Josh Moore is remembered by many in the Carolina Beach community as a reliable handyman, Belinda Moore said. Realtors and builders recognized Moore from afar by his trademark cowboy boots, which he wore religiously, she said, even while working on rooftops.

In fact, Moore’s autopsy would later show, he was wearing his favorite black cowboy boots in the car on the morning he died.

Mother: Why no warning signs?

The 4-year-old girl asks about her mommy Rhonda Hartley all the time.

“She likes looking at pictures of her and she loves looking at videos of her. She misses her, but she doesn’t understand the death part of it,” said Joan Singleton, Hartley’s mother.

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Rhonda Rebecca Hartley died in a car accident on Sept. 16, 2018, after the truck she was driving hit standing water on a road in Lexington County, S.C. Contributed photo.

Hartley, 30, of Leesville, died the morning Florence swept the South Carolina Midlands. She crashed into a tree after hitting water on the Pond Brand Road. The vehicle she was driving slid off the road.

That stretch of pavement in Batesburg-Leesville where Hartley wrecked is rated in poor condition and slated for resurfacing, according to the S.C. Department of Transportation.

Authorities told Singleton when her daughter hit standing water in the road, it caused her to lose control of the vehicle. The car flipped and hit a tree.

“They came to my house and told me she had an accident and that she didn’t make it,” Singleton recalls. “I’ll never forget those four words.”

Singleton said she wished warning signs about the road conditions would have been up for Hartley to see.

“I don’t understand why there wasn’t any flashing lights or signs, or do not cross through here, or anybody here directing traffic,” Singleton said.

Despite that stretch of road having planned improvements, there wouldn’t have been any caution signs there, a state transportation official said.

He died in ‘Death Valley’

Jeffrey Youngren of Elgin was supposed to attend church with his mother, but he never made it.

Youngren crashed on Interstate 20 in Camden, S.C., as he was heading home from his girlfriend’s house. It was just before 7 a.m. on Sept. 16. Already, Hurricane Florence had brought nearly three inches of rain in just 24 hours to the area.

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Jeffery B. Youngren, 42, died in Kershaw County during Hurricane Florence, on Sept. 16, 2018. Contributed photo.

The 42-year-old Youngren died after his truck hydroplaned and went off the left side of the interstate, hitting an overpass support beam, according to law enforcement records and Kershaw County Coroner David West.

West said Youngren died in a stretch of road that West calls “Death Valley” because he has responded to three fatal accidents there. The road takes a dip near where Youngren died. But other than that, there are no other visible signs of the road being dangerous, he said.

State transportation officials said Youngren’s death occurred near a stretch of road undergoing resurfacing at the time.

The area would have had signs for drivers indicating “end road work,” but the coroner said he could not see those signs based on a review of photos from the place where Youngren crashed.

Brenda Champion, Youngren’s mother, said her son worked for Kershaw County Public Works and was well-liked by his coworkers.

Trucker dies delivering hurricane relief

Orville Clyde “Chip” King III made his living touring the country from behind the wheel of a tractor trailer truck. He loved to travel, his family said in his obituary. And when he wasn’t working, King liked to fish, hunt and read.

On the day he died, 56-year-old King was hauling bottled water and storm recovery supplies to communities in the Carolinas affected by Florence.

In his truck on the morning of Sept. 16, he headed north on Interstate 85. He was killed when a car, attempting to pass him, instead sideswiped the big-rig and sent King’s truck barreling off the side of the interstate.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol found the truck dismantled. Troopers said King was killed after the truck hit a tree and overturned.

The wreck happened just south of Kings Mountain, in Cleveland County.

Vietnam veteran trapped in flooded car

The water all around the Ford Focus was rising, and 65-year-old Bennie Dudley Jr. was trapped.

First responders from a local fire department were able to save Dudley’s mother and another relative from the flooding car on Highway 903 near Kenansville, Dupling County. But no one could save Dudley.

It would be two days before a recovery team could reach the submerged car and Dudley’s body. A death investigator later noted in an autopsy report he found clothes inside the flooded car, “as if (Dudley) was attempting to leave his house to get out of hurricane.”

Dudley, a private first class during the Vietnam War, is buried at the Coastal Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Jacksonville.

She lost her baby. Now every storm brings anxiety

The last time Tammy Gill heard her baby boy cry, she was on an emergency room gurney and 3-month-old Kade Gill was being rushed past her. Outside, Florence whipped through North Carolina’s Piedmont.

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Kade Gill, 3 months old, died after a tree fell on his family’s home in Dallas, N.C. Family photo

The mother and son had arrived in separate ambulances at Caromont Regional Medical Center after a tree fell in their front yard and landed on their mobile home.

Tammy Gill remembers Florence’s winds had pushed against the tall pine tree all morning in the family’s front yard, in Dallas, N.C.

By the afternoon, the ground was soggy and soft and a strong gust of wind pushed over the tree, sending it crashing through their roof.

Gill, 41, had just sat down on the couch with Kade to feed him a bottle when the tree broke through the ceiling above her. Gill remembers the sound of the crash and holding her baby in her arms.

Her body absorbed the largest blow from the tree. As the pine fell, it scraped Gill’s back and pinned her against the couch.

Kade cried and Olen Gill, Tammy’s husband and Kade’s father, hurried from their kitchen to find half of their living room blocked by the tree’s trunk. Olen Gill, along with a neighbor and first responders, extracted the baby and Tammy.

At first, the Gills thought Kade would be okay. There was little physical sign of injury on his 12-pound body. But, at the hospital, doctors discovered a large object — most likely, a part of the ceiling — had landed on a soft spot of the baby’s head, causing traumatic brain injury.

Kade was placed on a ventilator, but he died about two hours later, in the afternoon on Sept. 16.

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“You think of 100 things that you mighta, coulda, shoulda done,” Tammy Gill says.

“I wonder what he would look like now. I wonder what he would be doing. I know he’s better where he is, in Heaven. But the human part of me would just rather have him here.”

Before the storm, the couple talked about leaving and Tammy Gill worried about the tall trees surrounding their home. After they decided to stay, Tammy rearranged the furniture in their living room and moved Kade’s infant swing away from windows and outside walls.

Even though she did all she could, Tammy says, she still carries guilt.

When heavy rains move through or forecasters call for a bad storm, she experiences anxiety.

“I’m on edge all day, looking out the windows at trees.”

She prays regularly and sometimes asks God “why.”

In the days and weeks after Florence, there was an outpouring of support from their neighbors and friends.

“People you would see in the beginning — that kinda fades away,” Tammy Gill said. “It’s understandable. It’s not their child, you know. Life just still goes on.

“Eventually, everything just goes back to normal... . But, we have a new normal now.”

Driver drowns in flash flood

Massive rainfall in eastern North Carolina caused flash flooding across the region, including in Laurinburg, where 73-year-old Hubert Huntley, driving a Ford Fusion, was swept off the road.

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Hubert Huntley, 73, died of drowning after the car he was driving encountered flash flooding in Scotland County, N.C. Contributed photo.

He died on Old Lumberton Road, near downtown Laurinburg and Leith Creek, on Sept. 16.

Huntley had been going to check on his mother in Maxton, according to a medical examiner’s report. His wife reported receiving two calls after Huntley left: the first after water pushed his car off the road, then another seven minutes later. He told his wife he tried to call 911, but didn’t get through and that water was filling his car.

A water rescue team out of Louisville, Kentucky, responded. But by the time the team was able to reach Huntley, he had drowned, according to a police report.

Mike Edge, the director of 911 operations in Scotland County, said the 911 call center was overwhelmed the day Huntley died. On a typical day, Edge said, the center gets 300 calls. But that day, as Florence moved inland, the call center received more than 2,000 calls.

Baby drowned in Union County

In the rainy evening, Dazia Lee felt her 1-year-old son Kaiden Lee-Welch being pulled away by the flood waters. Lee had been driving on a bridge over Richardson Creek in Union County, en route with Kaiden to her parents’ home.

Floodwaters rose close to 10 foot high, making the stretch of road the mother and son traveled on impassable.

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Kaiden Lee Welch was lost in flood waters at N.C. 218 in Union County during Hurricane Florence. Courtesy Union County Sheriff's Office

Local police tried to close the road, placing orange barriers 2 miles up from the creek. When Lee arrived, though, the barriers weren’t blocking traffic, she told reporters later.

Twenty-year-old Lee said she slowed down and pulled over when she saw the barriers sitting near the road. She considered turning around. But, then she saw cars coming from the opposite direction, giving her confidence the road was safe.

Later, Lee would explain to The Washington Post in an interview that a rush of water quickly overtook her Hyundai Elantra when she reached the bridge on Highway 218. She recalled getting Kaiden out of his car seat and climbing through the windows of her car.

Outside the car, Lee held Kaiden, but they began to sink and the power of the moving water carried her son away from her. She couldn’t reach him as she could not swim herself.

The next morning, authorities found little Kaiden’s body. He had drowned.

More than a month later, Lee was charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony, but the charge did not go before a grand jury and she was not indicted. Instead, Lee plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge and the Union County district attorney prosecuting the case added: “We have no reason to believe that, once she and her son were imperiled, she did not make every effort to save him.”

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The lesser charge carried no fine and no jail time but Lee’s driver’s license was temporarily revoked.

Her attorney Dan Roberts said: “She’s suffered a million times more than anything the court can do to her.”

Day Four

Stanley Wawrzyniak, who went by Stan, was a longtime resident of Peletier, North Carolina, near Emerald Isle.

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Stanley Wawryzniak died of a heart attack while cleaning storm debris from his home after Hurricane Florence. Go Fund Me page

Before his death, the 55-year-old wrote on Facebook that he had weathered many storms.

At first, Hurricane Florence seemed no different.

Wawrzyniak, a carpenter, told friends know he was staying on the coast, in a camp trailer, with his roommate. As Florence approached, he wrote on Facebook: “Power just went out... . The winds are getting strong.

“Let’s hope we make it through this.”

Four days later, Sept. 17, Wawrzyniak suffered a heart attack while cleaning up from the storm.

He was last seen by his roommate the night before his death, and it’s believed he spoke to his wife, via phone, that same night, according to a report from the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office.

Without power, man needing oxygen machine dies

Florence knocked out electricity across almost all of Sampson County for several days, leaving Lawrence Wheeler Harvell, 73, unable to run his oxygen machine.

Harvell used his oxygen concentrator for breathing as he endured ongoing respiratory issues, according to the state medical examiner’s office. But the machine required electricity. Harvell died at home on Sept. 17.

West & Dunn Funeral Home in Newton Grove said that in keeping with Harvell’s wishes, there was no funeral service. Several people wrote on the funeral home’s tribute wall that Harvell had been a first responder with Suttontown EMS.

One person wrote: “When the pagers tone for a call, Lawrence was there to help those in need. He had a heart to serve others. When our journey on earth ends; it is what we done to help others that measure our quality of life.”

Man, granddaughter die of CO poisoning

A electrical blackout affecting much of Duplin County after Hurricane Florence led James Preston and his granddaughter Brittany Preston to use a generator in their home.

On Sept. 17, they were found dead in their bedrooms. It’s believed they died in their sleep due to being exposed to carbon monoxide, likely from the generator.

James Preston was 74 years old. Brittany Preston was 22. They lived in Warsaw.

Warehouse crushed, manager killed in tornado

Ronnie Bishop, 60, of Chesterfield, Va., was at work, supervising the hardwood floor division at Old Dominion Floor Co., when the outer edge of Hurricane Florence passed through central Virginia on Sept. 17.

A tornado touched down, bringing winds of nearly 120 miles per hour. The storm flipped cars and damaged businesses and homes as it cut through the town of Midlothian, located on the outskirts of Richmond.

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Ronnie Bishop, 60, died when a tornado spun off from Hurricane Florence ripped through the Old Dominion Floor Co. warehouse he supervised in central Virginia. Contributed photo.

Tornado alarms sounded all afternoon, Kimberly Jones, the company’s vice president, told police. But the employees paid little mind, she said, until seeing a tornado through a window that afternoon.

“The metal roof started peeling back like paper,” said Stephen Heiderman, who worked with Bishop. In the warehouse, they heard a loud rushing noise like the rumbling of train engine and felt the building shake.

Jones helped usher other employees into the office that adjoined the company’s warehouse and struggled to close the office door against powerful winds, she later told police. Then, employees in the office realized Bishop was not among them.

He was found lying a few feet outside a door to the office, next to a forklift. His body was covered in debris and metal ceiling supports.

Later, the medical examiner would describe the cause of Bishop’s death as blunt force trauma to his head and extremities. State officials found the company had not violated safety standards during a follow-up inspection.

Ronnie Bishop’s nickname at work was Grumpy Grandpa, his wife, Gina, said.

“He was a grumpy old redneck that really loved his family and friends,” Gina Bishop said. “If he didn’t cuss at you, he didn’t like you.”

Her husband was passionate about carpentry. The son of a carpenter, he learned the craft early, Gina Bishop said. His other interests included deer hunting and classic cars. He was also devoted to his family and loved spending time over big meals and Bud Lites.

His only child had drowned at an early age, Gina Bishop said, and her husband mourned deeply.

“He’s been grieving his son all these years,” she said. “So now his heart’s full again.”

Head-on crash after car hydroplanes

The latter part of Florence’s push through the Carolinas and Virginia proved to be the deadliest, with 13 people total dying, including eight people who were killed on flooded roads on Sept. 17.

A head-on collision with another car killed 49-year-old Garrison Hicks as he drove to pick up his niece from school in Farmville, Va.

Virginia State Police say Hicks’ car hydroplaned on a flooded road, just five minutes from his home. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt at the time, police said.

Hicks died from his injuries at a hospital, police said. The driver of the other car was treated for minor injuries.

Susan Hicks remembers her son as someone who loved to help others.

“He always took time,” she said. “He was sweet and kind.”

Inland flood killed 88-year-old

When Clayborn “Red” Wright was killed, water from a flash flood washed over Lansford Road, a rural two-lane highway in Union County, North Carolina. No one knows exactly what time of the day or night it was when Wright lost control of the black Lincoln Town Car he was driving.

His grandson later told investigators Wright left his home around noon the day before. The storm had knocked out power at the house they shared. His grandfather was restless and left to get coffee, Michael Wright said.

The next morning, Sept. 17, authorities found Clayborn Wright’s body. He had wrecked in the woods beside the road after encountering deep flood waters, according to public safety officials.

Wright was floating next to the car and he is believed to have drowned, a report from the state medical examiner’s office states.

When a tow truck pulled Wright’s car from the water, investigators saw the driver’s side window was down — leading police to believe the 88-year-old man may have tried to escape as his vehicle was inundated over by water.

Wright was killed almost 200 miles away from where Florence made initial landfall on the North Carolina coast. He lived in Marshville, a small town on Highway 74 in south-central North Carolina.

Night wreck, flood kill Laurinburg man

Not far from his home, 66-year-old Alex Cummings of Laurinburg died after his car hit floodwater and swerved into a nearby creek.

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Alex Cummings, a Vietnam War veteran, died Sept. 17, 2018, after his car left a flooded roadway and plunged into a creek in Scotland County, N.C. Contributed photo.

His body was found Sept. 17. A local swift-water rescue team in Scotland County said they suspected Cummings was killed while driving the night before, according to a report by WRAL in Raleigh.

Cummings was going to check on friends in South Carolina and had been last seen at 9 p.m., Sept. 16, according to a medical examiner’s report. He was a native of Robeson County and a Vietnam War veteran, according to an obituary.

Man drowned with dogs in car

Thomas Edward “Tom” Zaloski, 71, of Rocky Point, died after his car was swept away on a flooded road.

Zaloski was a longtime biochemical engineer for Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Conn., who retired to North Carolina in 2008, according to his wife, Carleen.

He was a drummer throughout his life, she said, and did several world tours with different bands. In retirement, he continued to play drums and give private drumming lessons. He also enjoyed painting, woodworking, cooking, playing golf and fly fishing, his wife said.

“He was a quiet man, but had a dry sense of humor, and loved to tell stories of his childhood,” Carleen Zaloski said. “He had a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone.”

Pender County Emergency Medical Services and Fire said Tom Zaloski was traveling on N.C. 210 when he drove into water from nearby Merrick’s Creek that had escaped its banks because of heavy rainfall.

A rescue team was unable to reach Zaloski’s vehicle until the next day, Sept. 17. His beloved dogs, Fritz and Cho, also died in the accident, Carleen Zaloski said.

Air Force veteran drowned in truck

His sister urged him to stay a little longer, but Charles Andrew Carter, 81, wanted to get home to South Carolina after days of waiting out Florence.

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Charles Carter, 81, died in a car accident on a road flooded by the Little Pee Dee River. Lafayette Funeral Home

“I don’t know if he got cabin fever or was just ready to go,” said Carter’s son, Denver.

Charles Carter had evacuated to Lumberton, N.C., staying with his sister as wind and rain bore down on the region. He set out to drive home on Sept. 17, even as his sister urged him to wait and to let the floodwaters subside.

“My dad was a daredevil,” Denver Carter said.

The older Carter climbed into his 2011 Chevrolet Silverado and started his trip home to Bishopville, S.C. But Interstate 95 was closed, and so were parts of Interstate 74. Instead, he took the back roads.

When he turned onto Carolina Church Road, near the McInnis Bridge at the Little Pee Dee River, Carter came upon water streaming across the roadway. He attempted to drive through and his truck was swept away by the current, according to S.C. Department of Public Safety.

He was trapped inside his truck as the vehicle fell into a washed-out part of the road, becoming fully submerged. Carter drowned, according to the coroner.

Charles Carter was an Air Force veteran who loved his country and everything it stood for, his son said.

“When the authorities put out the announcement not to drive, there’s a reason for that and unfortunately my dad is the poster child for that reason,” Denver Carter said. “Heed the call. Your life is at stake.”

Man, 37, dies on flooded road

A father, son and brother, Daniel Player died at age 37 in an early-morning car wreck on a flooded road in Onslow County.

Player’s car crashed near the intersection of Bear Creek Road and Old Sandridge Ridge Road on Sept. 17, according to a North Carolina Medical Examiner report. Authorities believe Player may have been driving too fast when he hit standing water, hydroplaned and hit another vehicle.

At the time of his death, the Hubert resident had a tattoo of his son’s name, Jayden. In Player’s obituary, his family directed memorial donations to a fund for Jayden.

Neighbor finds man in flood

Robeson County resident Robert Earl Tillman died of injuries from a car accident. A neighbor found Tillman, still alive but severely injured, after his car careened off the road and plunged into floodwaters on Sept. 17.

The wreck happened on Gaddy’s Mill Road, near Tillman’s home.

A report from the medical examiner and information from police shows Tillman’s car went into a nearly 6-foot-deep culvert that had been created by a pavement washout. The vehicle then hit a drainage pipe at nearly 55 miles per hour. Tillman was 83.

‘High priority’ road project unfinished before flood

Early in the morning, 52-year-old Mitch Adams and his son went down a stretch of rural road they knew well.

On a clear, sunny day, Peru Road in southeastern Anson County is an easy drive through mostly wooded land. But on this Monday, Sept. 17, it was dangerous.

Devon Adams drove his father to the mall where Mitch Adams worked as a security guard. Their car encountered flood waters and a portion of washed out roadway near a crossing with Mill Creek, according to Anson County Emergency Management Director Rodney Diggs.

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Mitch Adams, 52, died of drowning after the car he was riding in hit rushing water on Peru Road in Anson County on Sept. 17, 2018. Facebook photo.

Rushing water pushed their vehicle off the road and into a flooded field. The father and son got out of their car and tried to get back to safety but the strength of the water swept them away, first responders said.

An hour later, paramedics found Devon Adams clinging for his life to a tree. His father’s body was found three hours later. Mitch Adams drowned, an autopsy report states.

Public records show Adams died about 1,000 feet away from a pond site previously known to produce life-threatening flooding during major storms.

The location was marked in a county government report as a “high priority” for mitigation after flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Then, a post-hurricane resilience plan submitted to the state Department of Emergency Management called for the Peru Road project and several others to be completed over the next three years.

But, two years later, when Florence hit, the project hadn’t been started. County officials said they don’t have funding.

After Florence, a spokesperson with the state emergency management office said they had no update on the project.

Diggs says the county is concerned about public safety in the area but the proposed project would be expensive and require relocating drains for three stormwater retention ponds further away from Peru Road. The ponds, he said, are located on private property.

Even if the project had been done, though, Diggs says he doesn’t think it would have made a difference to save Adams’ life because his death was more likely caused by flooding from the nearby creek, not the ponds.

Day Five

A sheriff’s deputy’s decision to drive through floodwaters in Lowcountry South Carolina led to Nikki Green and Wendy Newton drowning in the back of a police transport van.

Green, 43, and Newton, 45, were on their way to hospitals for mental health treatment on Sept. 18, when they died. The driver of the Horry County Sheriff’s Office van has been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of reckless homicide. A second deputy faces two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

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Nikki Green and Wendy Newton Provided by the families

State investigators allege the two deputies, Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop, took an unapproved route, which was visibly flooded. Just minutes before driving into high floodwaters, the deputies drove around a National Guard unit and a barrier, which indicated the road was dangerous and closed.

Their van was swept off S.C. Highway 76 in Marion County. Water pinned the van in a hole, against a guardrail. The two deputies escaped the flooded van and tried to open the back door to free Green and Newton but the women were trapped and drowned, investigators said.

An investigative report by The (Raleigh) News & Observer and The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News in May 2019 shows the state’s system for transporting people who need mental health treatment has overwhelmed local police and sheriff’s offices across South Carolina in recent years. It’s common for people like Green and Newton to endure hours-long trips in the back of police vehicles, handcuffed or in metal cages — just to receive medical treatment.

“The executive director of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association has asked legislators for dramatic reform that would take a medical issue out of the hands of law enforcement,” The News & Observer reported earlier this year.

Mother killed driving son to school

The worst of the storm seemed to have passed the North Carolina mountains as Lisa Renae Prayther set out to drive her 13-year-old son to school on the Tuesday after Florence.

The day before, local schools had opened two hours later than usual as the last bit of rain and heavy winds vacated the area. But even with the forecast clear for Sept. 18, the mother and son’s route was dangerous as ever.

Prayther, 46, and her son were on Dills Road, a two-lane connector road in southwestern Rutherfordton County around 7:15 a.m., according to the state Highway Patrol. Suddenly, a tree dislodged from the water-logged ground beside the road and fell, just as the Praythers were driving by.

The tree fell across the car’s passenger compartment, and the vehicle left the road, hitting a mailbox and then a house, according to troopers.

Couple dies in home’s hot, stale air

Married couple Bobbie Jean and Ralph Tucker died hours apart, four days after Florence’s landfall. Their home in the Duplin County town of Warsaw had been without electricity.

The home had no fans and all windows were closed, preventing air movement inside, according to a police report. The temperature inside the home was hot.

Bobbie Jean, 79, was found dead around 8 a.m. on Sept. 18. The medical examiner found she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Without electricity, she was unable to do in-home treatments for shortness of breath.

Bobbie Jean’s husband, Ralph, 81, died a little more than hour after his wife was found. He was discovered by the town’s mayor AJ Connors, who had come by to offer condolences after Bobbie Jean’s death.

When Connors entered the home, he found Ralph Tucker, a double amputee, had fallen out of his wheelchair and hit his head.

According to the police report, paramedics performed CPR before transporting Ralph Tucker to the local hospital, where he died. The medical examiner ruled Ralph Tucker likely went into cardiac arrest after he fell from his wheelchair. His death was determined to be of natural causes, exacerbated by the loss of electricity during the storm.

Last call to loved one: ‘I’m sinking’

It was raining harder than Penny Goldman had ever seen, and she worried that her partner of 24 years, Richard Kelih Jr., would drive into trouble on his way home from work.

Before his midnight shift as a security supervisor in Richmond, Va., ended, Goldman spoke with Kelih. He told her not to worry, to go to sleep.

But soon, a ringing phone jolted her awake. On the line, Kelih was screaming.

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Richard Kelih, 59, died on a flooded road on his way home from his job as a security supervisor. Contributed photo.

“I’m sinking! I’m sinking! I’m in a sinkhole,” she remembers him saying.

Then the line went dead.

Goldman called the police. She thought she knew where Kelih was, based on the time of the call and the route he typically took home.

She drove toward the site, but a barricade was blocking traffic on Rock Quarry Road, so she turned around.

Not long after Goldman’s 911 call, the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office got another call about Rock Quarry Road. It was from a member of the crew putting up barricades on the road. He’d spotted vehicle taillights about 100 feet away, off the pavement and in a creek.

At the time, at least two feet of water was rushing over the road. Later, police would find Kelih’s Toyota Tacoma overturned and partially submerged. Kelih died early in the morning Sept. 18. He was 59.

Had Kelih known the road was flooded or was closed, he wouldn’t have tried to drive through, Goldman and his mother, Nancy, both say. After he died, the Central Virginian newspaper reported the stretch of road where he drowned passes over Foster’s Creek and has no guard rails.

That’s something Goldman and Nancy Kelih hope to change.

“We want to prevent this from happening to anybody else,” Goldman said.

Hurricane stress contributed to retiree’s death

A bad fall suffered during storm clean-up combined with post-hurricane stress killed 67-year-old Barry Scott Gallagher.

Gallagher lived in New Bern and died Sept. 18. He was born and raised in the Hudson River Valley in New York and had retired from IBM, according to his obituary.

An autopsy determined Gallagher had heart problems and the stress of Florence contributed to his death. People helping him clean up after the storm told officials they saw Gallagher after he fell with blood on his face and that his injuries were bad enough to warrant going to the hospital.

But Gallagher refused to go to the hospital, the autopsy report states.

Later, police and medical investigators would learn Gallagher had suffered a broken neck during the fall and had an irregular heart beat and a blood clot in his heart.

The medical examiner on the case wrote in his final report: “It’s no doubt the stress was severe from the hurricane (and) fall ... This stress may have contributed to his death. Therefore, this is considered an accidental death and related to Hurricane Florence.”

A week later

In the days immediately after Florence, six people in North Carolina died while doing yard work or making repairs to storm damage at their homes. One person, an 82-year-old man in Craven County, died by suicide after learning his home would be condemned due to extensive storm damage, state health officials said. The Observer typically does not name victims of suicide.

Two people died while still evacuated from their homes and two others drowned in lingering floodwaters across the state.

In Robert Stanley’s case, his heart gave out.

The 68-year-old, who went by Doug, collapsed in his house in Holly Ridge, Onslow County, on Sept. 20. His wife heard him fall in their hallway on his way to take a shower, according to a report from the state medical examiner.

She called 911 and paramedics attempted to revive Stanley for nearly an hour. The cause of death, according to an autopsy, was heart disease.

‘He was already gone’

As he cleared fallen trees and storm debris from his yard in Bolivia, 46-year-old George Kevin Johnson suffered heart failure and died on Sept. 21.

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George Kevin Johnson, 46, lived in Bolivia, N.C. and died Sept. 21, 2018, of a heart attack in his yard while cleaning storm debris from Hurricane Florence. Contributed photo.

Florence’s rain and strong gusts had already moved through Brunswick County. This was the place Johnson had grown up.

When he graduated from West Brunswick High School, he went to work at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant outside Southport, according to his mother, Ann Johnson.

George Johnson, who went by Kevin, was employed by a contractor that painted and did other maintenance in nuclear plants, and his work also took him to the Triangle and South Carolina. He has one daughter, who lives in Charlotte.

When he was home, Johnson mostly worked in his yard or went to car shows, his mother said.

“He was a quiet person,” she said. “He didn’t like to go to clubs or party.”

After Hurricane Florence, Johnson bought a couple of power saws and was using them to clear downed trees and limbs from his yard.

When Ann Johnson arrived at her son’s house, the police told her he appeared to have had a heart attack as he bent down to pick up a saw. An autopsy later confirmed Kevin Johnson had high blood pressure and clogged arteries in his heart and likely had developed ischemic heart disease, which restricted blood and oxygen flow.

“When I got there, he was already gone,” she said. “They got him straightened out so we could look at him and touch him before they took him away for an autopsy.”

In Floyd, he saved people. In Florence, he lost his life.

Living in Duplin County, David Earl Bonham had deep experience with dangerous storms.

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David Earl Bonham died a week after Hurricane Florence as he attempted to make repairs at his home in Duplin County. His family said he fell off a ladder and struck his head. Contributed photo.

After Hurricane Floyd flooded the North Carolina coast in 1999, Bonham joined the team of volunteer rescuers who pulled stranded families out of their houses, his sister recalled. Bonham navigated country roads on jet-skis and the team made their way through flooded neighborhoods in dump trucks.

During Florence, Bonham lived through the worst of the storm, surviving the winds and the deep floodwaters that closed off Interstate 95 near his home in Teachey. But a week after the storm made landfall, he died.

He climbed a ladder on Sept. 21 in his yard to fix a damaged doorway on a workshop building. He fell off the ladder and fatally injured his head, said his sister Sherry Brown.

“He was trying to fix his building,” Brown said. “He had a little shop. He liked fast cars. He liked anything fast.”

A welder by trade, Bonham was between jobs when the storm hit. He was 47.

Pender County man fell from roof

Jeffrey Semar, 69, of Hampstead, died Sept. 22, after falling from a roof while cleaning storm debris and making repairs at his home, according to North Carolina state health officials.

Andrews Mortuary in Hampstead, which handled the arrangements, said the family held a private service.

‘There ain’t nobody in there’

Before he died, Norman Martin had rediscovered one life’s greatest gifts — companionship. Her name was Irene Sealy, she was five years younger and they found each other on Facebook.

“I sent him a little message,” Sealy recalls. “After awhile he wanted to come see me.”

“He had to pay somebody to bring him down here because he couldn’t drive,” she said. In addition to heart disease, Crohn’s and COPD, Martin was also legally blind. But, Sealy says, his mind was sharp.

“I told him, ‘You can remember anything — and I forget everything. You can share your memory with me and I’ll share my eyesight with you.’”

They had about five years together after Martin moved to Sealy’s small mobile home on the North Carolina coast. Martin, age 87, died Sept. 22 after falling and hitting his head inside a Greensboro hotel room.

He and Sealy had evacuated Hampstead, N.C., near Topsail Beach, ahead of Florence.

“The hurricane was coming, and he was frightened — I mean really frightened,” Sealy remembers. “So he packed up the car, and we went.”

Martin was attempting to get out of his hotel bed when he fell and hit his head on a table in the room, according to emergency medical officials in Guilford County. He died three days later at the hospital.

“He was a good man,” Sealy said. “I miss him terribly.”

Sometimes, Sealy says, she stands in her kitchen and instinctively turns to the living room, where Martin used to sit in his chair and watch old Western movies: “Then, I think, ‘There ain’t nobody in there… . I’m sitting here now, alone, like I was when I met him.”

Emerald Isle man dies on trip home from shelter

In Florence’s aftermath, Ronald Garfield Brooks left the evacuation shelter he’d been staying in and drove an hour-and-a-half to check on his home.

During the trip to Emerald Isle, he lost control of his car. His brother said Ronald Brooks, 76, was likely intending to return to the shelter but never made it.

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Ronald Brooks, an electrician from Emerald Isle, N.C., died in a car accident on his way home from a hurricane evacuation shelter. Family photo

Police officers say he crashed Sept. 23 on Highway 58 in Jones County. The investigation concluded Brooks’ car first veered off the right side of the road and he likely over-corrected, causing the car to swerve across both lanes before colliding with a downed tree, which caused his vehicle to flip.

Brooks died the next day in a hospital from injuries sustained in the crash.

Paul Brooks, his brother, called it a “freak accident.” Before, he said, Ronald Brooks was healthy and strong. He had a sense of humor, too.

About nine years ago, Ronald Brooks developed a circulation issue with his legs. Doctors amputated one of his legs above the knee, his brother said. Brooks used an electric scooter and had a prosthetic leg.

“He would turn his leg upside down and use the bottom of his shoe to set his drink on, and all the kids would just be freaking out,” Paul Brooks said. “That’s just the kind of guy he was.”

Ronald Brooks was an electrician and founded Diamond Electric Company on Emerald Isle in 1981, with his wife Rose. They ran the business together until Rose’s death in 2010.

Paul Brooks said that even after his brother’s surgery, Ronald continued to work — strapping his tools to his electric scooter to make house calls. During hurricanes, Ronald Brooks was a member of the local storm damage assessment team and typically would have been part of recovery efforts.

His brother evacuated ahead of Hurricane Florence, though, when a woman who lived next door to him — she happened to be a police officer — urged him to leave for his safety, Paul Brooks said. The mobile home Ronald Brooks lived in on the island was especially vulnerable to strong winds and heavy rain.

“His home got hit pretty hard,” Paul said. “But this is one of those weird situations where if he hadn’t have gone to the shelter, he’d still be alive.”

Woman killed on washed out road

More than a week after Florence’s landfall, dozens of roads across eastern North Carolina remained dangerous and closed. Police say the road 51-year-old Cheryl Ann Rutledge Holt died on was closed and authorities had put out a barrier warning drivers.

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Cheryl Holt, 51, died in Robeson County on a flooded road in the days after Florence. Ridge Funeral Home

Holt, of Franklinville, was killed Sept. 23, in Robeson County. Her car sank into deep water that collected where a section of the road had washed away in floods, according to the Fayetteville Observer, which obtained a copy of the accident report from the N.C. Highway Patrol. The wreck happened on N.C. 904, near Marietta.

According to her obituary by Ridge Funeral Home in Asheboro, Holt had worked as a finishing operator at Energizer.

Goldsboro man had seizure, drowned

Marcus Wiley told his sister he was going to visit friends. He walked from his home toward the middle of Goldsboro, investigators said, but he didn’t come back.

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Marcus Wiley, 32, drowned as he walked to see friends in a heavily-flooded part of Goldsboro days after Florence passed. J.B. Rhodes Funeral Home

Roughly 24 hours later, on Sept. 24, a landscaper discovered Wiley’s body in a ditch.

Among the items in Wiley’s pockets were a “Gucci Classics” CD and an information sheet on Wake County emergency shelters, medical examiner records show. He was wearing swim trunks in addition to pants.

The area where Wiley’s body was found, along U.S. 117, had been flooded for more than a week, investigators said. He died about 3 miles from his home.

Wiley, 32, had a seizure disorder and didn’t always take his medication. The medical examiner concluded it was likely he had a seizure and fell into the water. His death was ruled an accidental drowning.

Cleanup injury causes fatal infection

The obituary for Ronald Phelps told of a long, full life:

Member of the 1951 state championship basketball team at New Hanover High; a college basketball scholarship; four years in the Navy, where he served on three ships, deployed to places including Europe and South America; a long career in insurance; and more than five decades of marriage to his wife, Carolyn.

Phelps, 85, died on Sept. 25. The week prior, he’d been in his yard in Wilmington, cleaning storm debris, according to the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office.

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Ronald Phelps, of Wilmington, died Sept. 25 after contracting a deadly infection in his yard as he attempted to cleanup debris from Hurricane Florence. Wilmington Funeral & Cremation

State officials attribute his death to a fatal infection, caused by a injury to his leg after he was scraped by a tree branch.

He’d been rushed to a nearby hospital after collapsing. Doctors determined he suffered from septic shock, life-threateningly low blood pressure brought on by infection.

At the hospital, Phelps’ leg was amputated but he later died from what a biopsy showed was vibrio series bacteremia.

In his obituary, loved ones wrote of the “unforgettable love story” Ronald and Carolyn Phelps shared. Carolyn Phelps died in 2017.

Phelps also ran a popular “Hometown Memories” Facebook page about Wilmington’s history, according to an article about his death from the Wilmington Star-News. After his death, his family directed memorial donations to the The Salvation Army of Cape Fear’s Hurricane Relief Fund.

Kinston woman with MS killed after storm

For more than a week, Florence displaced Lynn Rhodes from her home in Kinston, N.C. When she returned and began cleaning debris, Rhodes experienced difficulty breathing.

Later, the state medical examiner’s office would determine Rhodes suffered respiratory complications related to multiple sclerosis. She died Sept. 26 after having a seizure and losing consciousness at her home.

She was 44 years old. After her death, Rhodes’ family started a memorial fund to help support her young son’s education.

Missing for 1 month

Betty “Susie” Fitzgerald Britt was missing for more than a month after Florence, and it wasn’t until the next major hurricane — Michael — that authorities would discover her body.

Britt had been last seen near Melrose Towers in Roanoke, Va., on Sept. 14, the day Florence pushed ashore, according to a missing person flyer. On Oct. 16, her body was found during Hurricane Michael cleanup.

She had drowned in the Roanoke River, near a bridge in the Wasena neighborhood, The Roanoke Times reported.

The medical examiner’s office ruled Britt’s death an accidental drowning. She was 53.

Robeson suicide attributed to storm

A 69-year-old man who died by suicide on Oct. 22 had endured extensive flood damage to his home after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and saw his house again damaged during Florence, according to state health officials. The Observer typically does not name victims of suicide.

Investigators in North Carolina spoke with the man’s brother who said the man had also been arguing with his wife the day before he died. State records show the man’s death as partially caused by prolonged stress arising from Hurricane Florence.

4 months later

The death of 44-year-old Brad Biron, long after the hurricane had come and gone, came as a shock to everyone who knew him, his mother Peg recalls.

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Brad Biron, 44, died in Wilmington almost four months after Hurricane Florence. An autopsy showed he was cleaning mold in his home, caused by the storm, and likely died from exposure to bleach. Kelly Funeral Home

Her son had been home for Christmas just before he was found dead in his bed on Jan. 24. When Peg Biron last saw Brad, he seemed healthy.

But the night before he died, he became sick. Later, medical investigators would conclude he was possibly exposed to too much bleach or another cleaning agent while trying to eradicate mold in his home. The mold was caused by rain and flooding during Florence.

She still doesn’t understand how it could have happened to her son.

“He was just so alive before, just a few weeks before,” Peg said.

She sometimes wonders if his death could have been prevented.

“I’m not a doctor, but I’ve read (the autopsy report) over many times... . I wish things were different.”

Biron’s mother says her son first moved to North Carolina from a small town in Massachusetts almost 23 years ago. Their hometown of less than 6,000 people is small and Peg said her son, a carpenter, thought he could find better job opportunities in North Carolina. He started his own business in Wilmington.

Although he loved living in the South, Peg said, her son remained a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees and the New England Patriots and was active with a Wilmington-based fan club for the Patriots. After he died, the local Patriots group held a moment of silence for him.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

How we did this story

The Storm’s Path includes an in-depth look at the people who died at the hands of Hurricane Florence. To tell these stories, reporters collected official government records (like police reports and autopsies), interviewed family and friends of victims , spoke with first responders and coroners, and reviewed news articles, obituaries and social media accounts.

To analyze emergency preparedness in North Carolina communities, news reporters toured storm shelters and obtained post-Florence evaluations of public safety efforts. Information came from interviews with emergency management officials and civic leaders and experts who help governments prepare for natural disasters.

Stories were written by Carli Brosseau, Andrew Carter, John Murawski, Martha Quillin, Josh Shaffer and Richard Stradling of The (Raleigh) News & Observer; Zachery Eanes of The (Durham) Herald-Sun; Anna Douglas, Anna Pogarcic and Sarah Skinner of the Charlotte Observer; Cody Dulaney and Jamie Self of The (Columbia) State; and Alex Lang of The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News.
Related stories from Myrtle Beach Sun News

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