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Road access cut off to N. Carolina city after Florence

September 17, 2018
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A truck exits Interstate 40 outside Wilmington, N.C., after damage from Hurricane Florence cut off the city Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Authorities are looking at going by air and water to get food into a North Carolina city that was cut off from road access by Florence’s floodwaters.

The major highways into the Wilmington area, Interstate 40 and U.S. 74, were not accessible Sunday, officials said.

“There is no access to Wilmington,” Woody White, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, said Sunday at a news conference.

State Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said one of his top priorities was determining how to restore ground access to the area. Trogdon said the state was working with the Department of Defense and National Guard to see if they could get first responders through to Wilmington in high-water vehicles. He also said officials were working on “other contingencies to support Wilmington on the ocean side.”

While the city was cut off from the outside, streets in Wilmington were busy with motorists.

Victor Merlos was overjoyed to find a store open for business since he had about 20 relatives staying at his apartment, which still has power. He spent more than $500 on cereal, eggs, soft drinks and other necessities, plus beer.

“I have everything I need for my whole family,” said Merlos.

Long lines formed at gas stations in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Sunday as residents tried to refuel cars and keep generators running at home. Around 700,000 North Carolinians were without power as Florence pounded through the state.

Police guarded the door of another store and only 10 people were allowed inside at a time. Dallas Perdue told The Associated Press he waited about two hours to get into the store to buy a few groceries.

Nearby, a Waffle House restaurant limited breakfast customers to one biscuit and one drink, all take-out, with the price of $2 per item. The line for gasoline at a Costco store stretched about a half-mile down a road.

The water utility, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, had said Sunday that it had only a 48-hour supply of fuel to provide water. However, it said later in a news release that a source of fuel had been found and there was no immediate threat to service.

While Wilmington has survived its share of hurricanes, including Hurricane Fran in September 1996, the city of 120,000 has not suffered the amount of rain that fell from Florence, which has since weakened to a tropical depression.

Typically, it’s a tourist city and home to EUE Screen Gems, a movie studio that helped give the city the nickname of “Hollywood of the East,” although production has dropped since lawmakers scaled back film incentives. Television shows such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill” were filmed there, as well movies that include “The Hunger Games” and “Iron Man 3.”

It’s the hometown of basketball great and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and is known for its historic homes and its annual Azalea Festival.

But as the rain continued to fall, its officials were asking North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper for additional law enforcement, including the National Guard, White said.

Patients on oxygen and dialysis were being moved from New Hanover County Medical Center to Hoggard High School, a new shelter scheduled to open to the public at 5 p.m. Sunday. It has room for 1,387 people.

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Waggoner reported from Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Follow Martha Waggoner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc .

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For the latest on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes

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