After the hurricane comes the deluge on South Carolina coast

People walk on a local street as water from Neuse River starts flooding houses upon Hurricane Florence coming ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, September 13, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 25 September 2018
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After the hurricane comes the deluge on South Carolina coast

  • Hurricane Florence is expected to cause record flooding downriver in Georgetown County as its final act
  • In Washington, lawmakers considered almost $1.7 billion in new money for disaster relief and recovery

GEORGETOWN: Eleven days ago, Lee Gantt was at a Hurricane Florence party in her neighborhood in Georgetown, where the story goes that some houses haven’t flooded from the Sampit River since they were built before the American Revolution.
She will spend Tuesday with sandbags, watching the nearby river rise from Florence’s heavy rains and seeing if the luck finally runs out on her home built on Front Street in 1737.
“We thought this might be coming. We just left everything up above the floor just like from the hurricane. I’m nervous. Can’t you see me shaking?” she said, stretching her arms out.
The Sampit is one of five rivers that reach the Atlantic Ocean in and near Georgetown on the South Carolina coast. And Hurricane Florence — which started with record rainfall in North Carolina — is expected to cause record flooding downriver in Georgetown County as its final act. So much water is coming that it is backing up other rivers that aren’t even flooding.
The county has recommended almost 8,000 people leave their homes — more than 10 percent of the population. Officials expect floodwaters to top several bridges, nearly cutting Georgetown County in two and leaving only one highway out during the expected crest early Thursday.
The deluge has made its way so slowly down the Lumber, Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers that the state last week released detailed maps on where it expects flooding. Upstream in Horry County, the floodwaters have invaded close to 1,000 homes near Conway as the Waccamaw River was slowly making its way to a crest a full 4 feet (1.2 meters) over its record level set just two years ago after Hurricane Matthew.
But in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said it was time to start concentrating on recovery. “Florence is gone but the storm’s devastation is still with us,” Cooper said at a news conference.
About 400 roads across North Carolina remained closed due to the storm that’s claimed at least 46 lives since slamming into the coast Sept. 14. Crews have reopened the major highways closed in the storm. Interstate 95 was reopened to all traffic Sunday night for the first time since the floods, and Cooper said Monday that a previously closed portion of Interstate 40 had reopened sooner than expected.
Power outages and the number of people in shelters also were declining. Around 5,000 people were without power, down from a peak of about 800,000, and about 2,200 people were in shelters, compared with a high of around 20,000, the governor said.
In Washington, lawmakers considered almost $1.7 billion in new money for disaster relief and recovery. And the economic research firm Moody’s Analytics estimated that Florence has caused around $44 billion in damage and lost output, one of the 10 costliest US hurricanes. The worst disaster, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cost $192.2 billion in today’s dollars. Last year’s Hurricane Harvey cost $133.5 billion.
Down in Georgetown County, it is a disaster nearly two weeks in the making. Georgetown County spent days under hurricane warnings before Hurricane Florence made landfall about 110 miles (175 kilometers) up the coast near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
The worst of the storm stayed well north, causing only minor flooding in Georgetown and some downed limbs.
“We had a hurricane party,” Gantt said. “Now I don’t know what to do.”
Several blocks up Front Street, the main business district was busy, but with people leaving. All along the sidewalk were piles of artwork, antiques, and boxes as owners emptied out their inventory to take to higher ground.
Tomlinson department store sent an empty truck normally used to stock stores and employees rushed to fill it with everything. The store has never flooded, but predictions call for up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water by Thursday. “The anticipation has been nerve-wracking. Though, I’m glad we had the time to do this,” said district manager Kevin Plexico.
Georgetown was positioning ambulances and firetrucks in the busy, tourist section along the beaches in case the floods cut off the US Highway 17 bridges as expected. National Guard troops were prepared to float more equipment across the river if needed. Exhausted emergency officials said they have lived nothing but Florence for more than two weeks.
“The work has been done,” Georgetown Mayor Brendon Barber said. “We just need to pray.”


Taliban push for withdrawal of foreign troops in two-day talks

Updated 52 min 37 sec ago
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Taliban push for withdrawal of foreign troops in two-day talks

  • Reject reports that discussions were centered around a cease-fire and Afghan polls
  • Meeting involved representatives from the US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE

ISLAMABAD, KABUL: Putting an end to speculations surrounding the content of discussions that took place between representatives of the US and the Afghan Taliban during the two-day talks in the UAE, the militant group said on Wednesday that the “focal point of the discussion” was the “withdrawal of foreign troops".

The statement further rejected reports that a ceasefire, formation of an interim government, and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan were discussed between the two parties.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US' special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, led the delegation for the talks which began on Monday in the presence of officials from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

After the meetings, he had tweeted that the two-day talks, to promote intra-Afghan dialogue in order to end the conflict in Afghanistan, had been productive.

Khalilzad flew into Pakistan where he met the army's top commander, General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Rawalpindi, with the military spokesman's saying that matters of regional security and the Afghan peace process were discussed.

“Visiting dignitary appreciated Pakistan's efforts for the Afghan peace process. The COAS (Chief of the Army Staff) reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and assured cont efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region,” the spokesman tweeted.

He added that both sides discussed measures to create underlying conditions for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan after 40 years of conflict.

Earlier in the day, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said no talks had taken place with the Kabul administration and that other issues would not be discussed because the “root cause of all problems and the biggest obstacle to peace is the occupation of Afghanistan and bringing it to an end".

He added that any future negotiations would take placd after deliberations and consultations with the respective leadership from both sides.

Mujahid said that the Taliban representatives presented “documented information and proof to the participants about indiscriminate bombings against civilians and demanded its immediate halt. Talks were also held about humane treatment of prisoners and their freedom, a matter that shall be taken into consideration".

Another Taliban official, privy to the discussions that took place in the UAE, said that the US had called for the release of two professors from the American University of Kabul, who were kidnapped in 2016 and were in the Taliban's custody.

He added that US officials reiterated their longstanding concerns about the imminent threats to Washington from Afghanistan and that the Taliban assured them that their “activities are only limited to Afghanistan".

The official, who did not want to be identified, told Arab News that the Taliban's chief, Maulvi Habitullah, had authorized senior officials -- including former ministers Amir Khan Mutaqi, Mullah Abbas, and other senior leaders Siddiqullah, Hafiz Yahya Haqqani, Saadullah Hamas and Dr Faqeer -- to participate in the talks.

“As far as the results of these negotiations are concerned and how effective they shall prove in finding a peaceful solution to the continuing problems will be answered in the upcoming weeks and months,” the Taliban posted on their official website on Tuesday.

In Kabul, Omer Daudzai, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s newly-appointed envoy told a gathering on Wednesday that "work on the peace deal will begin in the near future". He gave no further details.

Due to the sensitive nature of the talks, no formal details of the meeting have been made available to the public yet. However, Reuters quoted a Taliban source on Tuesday when it reported that the Taliban had discussed conditions for a truce, swapping of prisoners, and the formation of an interim government with the US officials.

The reports, however, were rejected by Mujahid. “Reuters News Agency has been publishing false reports since yesterday about the meeting taking place between representatives of the Islamic Emirate and the United States in the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

“Talks in Abu Dhabi are taking place with the United States about ending the occupation and American intervention. Nothing about an interim government, ceasefire, elections nor any other internal issue is being discussed, rather the main topic is the American occupation,” he added.

The US embassy in Kabul said Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Wednesday to update President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah on his engagements with regional partners and other interested parties to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad arrived in Kabul after three-days of meetings in Abu Dhabi, including the fourth round of quadrilateral meetings between the United States, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, a statement said. 

The meetings were a part of efforts by the United States and international partners to promote an intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan.