By Gene Cherry
RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) - South Carolina communities along waterways near the Atlantic coast were racing on Saturday to prepare for the possible onslaught of dangerous flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which has killed at least 40 people.
Towns and cities across the state were filling thousands of sandbags, finalizing evacuation plans and organizing rescue crews as they nervously watched swollen rivers rise near or beyond their flood stages, a week after Florence dumped some three feet of rain on the region.
In Lee's Landing, a community in Horry County, a county of 290,000 people on the Atlantic Coast that includes Myrtle Beach, residents have started to evacuate by boat as the Waccamaw River continues to flood over its banks and spill into neighborhoods, a local CBS affiliate reported.
"If you can get out, get out," said Joseph Tanner, the county's fire rescue chief, during an interview with WBTW News 13.
The county has assembled several rescue crews to save people from floods and filled thousands of sandbags over the last couple of days, officials said on social media.
Thirty-one deaths have been attributed to the storm in North Carolina, eight in South Carolina and one in Virginia.
To the north in Georgetown County, water continued to drain into the five rivers and several reservoirs that run through the county of 60,000 people as officials prepared to hand out thousands of sandbags on Saturday. Dangerous flooding and evacuations may begin early next week, officials said.
"We know it's coming and we hope that it won't be near as bad as the models have predicted," Georgetown County Emergency Management Director Sam Hodge during a Facebook Live event on Friday. "Today is the day that you need to start preparation for those evacuations."
Thirty flood gauges in North and South Carolina showed flooding on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
A week after Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, North Carolina is still feeling its effects, Governor Roy Cooper said. "Some locations won't see rivers crest until this weekend and flooding won't subside until next week," he said in a Twitter post.
In Bladen County, North Carolina, about 100 people and 33 animals were rescued "in a dangerous operation in the middle of the night" after a dam burst, Cooper said in another post.
Some 4,700 people across North Carolina have been rescued by boat or helicopter since the storm made landfall, twice as many as in Hurricane Matthew two years ago, according to state officials. About 10,000 people remained in shelters.
The coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, was still mostly cut off by floodwaters on Friday.
Some 650 roads remained closed, the state's department of transportation said, warning motorists not to travel in 17 southeastern counties worst-hit by Florence.
More than 33,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Carolinas on Saturday morning.
Duke Energy Corp said on Friday that breaches in a cooling lake dam forced it to shut down its natural gas-fired L.V. Sutton plant in North Carolina. The utility said it could not rule out the possibility that coal ash from a dump adjacent to the plant, which formerly burned coal, might be flowing into the nearby Cape Fear River.
Coal ash can contaminate water and harm fish and wildlife.
The flooding from Florence has also caused 21 hog "lagoons," which store manure from pig farms, to overflow in North Carolina, possibly contaminating standing water, according to the state's Department of Environmental Quality. North Carolina is one of the leading hog-producing states in the country.
Several sewer systems in the region also have released untreated or partly treated sewage and storm water into waterways over the last week, local media reported.
(Additional reporting by Bill Tarrant and Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Helen Popper)