HOWARD COUNTY, MD — A highway sign on Interstate 95 in Maryland is warning drivers not to go too far south. Usually the message boards along I-95 alert drivers to crashes, roadwork or lane closures. Sometimes they give estimated travel times.
On Saturday, a sign south of Baltimore gave a serious warning about a situation more than 200 miles away.
The display over I-95 south shared this message past MD 175 on Saturday, after Florence poured more than two feet of rain in some parts of North Carolina: “I-95 CLOSED IN NC. TRAVEL NOT ADVISED. USE EXTREME CAUTION.”
The highway sign in Maryland was posted as major roads in North Carolina, including I-95 and US 40, were closed. North Carolina Highway Patrol Commander Glenn McNeill urged out-of-state motorists Saturday to avoid driving through the state, where detours were becoming difficult to come by.
“At this time, drivers who would travel through North Carolina will be detoured completely around the state,” the North Carolina Department of Transportation said in an advisory on Sept. 15.
Here is the detour for those headed south on I-95 to North Carolina:
- I-95 south to I-64 West in Virginia to I-81, to I-75 in Tennessee to I-16 in Georgia to I-95
“This is an extremely long detour, but it is the detour that offers the lowest risk of flooding at this time,” North Carolina transportation officials said. “Please note those conditions can change as Hurricane Florence moves across the southern North Carolina border and begins to impact South Carolina.”
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Hours after making landfall early Friday morning, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm. But the storm has remained so large and so slow to move across North Carolina that some areas of coastal North Carolina have been hit by more than two feet of rain, which continues to fall.
Florence’s death toll rose to at least 14 across the Carolinas Saturday as the storm continued lashing both states with torrential rain that has left hundreds of miles of roads and entire towns under water.
Another foot and a half of rain could fall by the end of the weekend, bringing flooding to inland areas that have never flooded.
The storm is shaping up as a two-part disaster — the initial onslaught that battered buildings, deluged entire communities with storm surge and knocked out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses, and a second, delayed stage triggered by rainwater working its way into rivers and streams. Flash flooding could devastate communities and endanger dams, roads and bridges.
At 11 p.m. Saturday, Florence was about 40 miles east-southeast of Columbia, South Carolina’s capital. But with half of the storm still out over the Atlantic, Florence continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.
Several crews from Maryland have deployed to assist with relief efforts in the Carolinas. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan authorized a helicopter rescue team — made up of Maryland Army National Guard members and helicopter search and rescue technicians from Baltimore, Harford, Howard, and Montgomery counties — to help with search and rescue efforts in North Carolina. Two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters with eight crew members and three maintainers will leave on Sunday to assist with the recovery effort.
On Wednesday morning, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service’s Maryland Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue Team left Rockville for its deployment by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Columbia, South Carolina, in advance of what was then Hurricane Florence.
Maryland also opened two shelters, one in Prince George’s County and another in Talbot County, for those seeking relief.
With reporting from North Carolina Patch editor Kimberly Johnson.
Photo by Elizabeth Janney.