By Gene Cherry and Harriet McLeod
(Reuters) – Rivers and waterways in North and South Carolina were expected to crest on Sunday and remain at dangerous flood levels for days, the U.S. National Weather Service warned more than a week after the arrival of Hurricane Florence, which has killed at least 40 people.
Much of the region remained under heavy flooding, including one area 40 miles (64 km) north-northwest of Wilmington where waters were still five feet (1.5 meters) above flood status, according to the National Weather Service.
“This isn’t over. Large sections of rivers near the coast won’t start cresting until at least early in the week, maybe later,” said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center
“All that water is going to take a good while to recede,” he said. “Damage can still be done. It’ll be a slow drop.”
The storm dumped 30 to 40 inches (75 to 100 cm) of rain on the Wilmington area, temporarily cutting off the historic coastal city that lies along the Cape Fear River.
While some areas of the state will experience major flooding through at least Tuesday, waters have receded elsewhere.
That left hundreds of dead fish stranded on a highway near Wallace, about 35 miles from the nearest beach, according to the Penderlea Fire Department, which posted video of firefighters hosing the fish off the asphalt of Interstate 40.
“Well, we can add ‘washing fish off of the interstate’ to the long list of interesting things firefighters get to experience!” the fire department said on Facebook.
In Wilmington, about a foot of water remained on streets near the river on Sunday, images from local media showed.
But the city announced that its offices would reopen on Monday after having been closed for a week.
Remnants of the once-mighty storm brought heavy rains northwest up the Ohio Valley, prompting flood watches and warnings from Texas to Virginia and Maryland, at least through Monday, the weather service said.
At least 40 deaths have been attributed to the storm, with most of those in North Carolina.
About 5,000 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. Thousands of people remained in shelters.
Some 550 roads remained closed as of Saturday, the state’s department of transportation said, warning motorists not to travel in 17 southeastern counties worst hit by Florence.
Flooding had raised concerns that discharges from a power plant’s cooling lake in Wilmington might contaminate water downstream.
Duke Energy Corp said on Sunday its tests had shown “little to no impact to water quality.”
“All results are well within the rigorous state water quality standards in place to protect the environment,” the company said in a statement.
Duke also reiterated that is coal ash basin, which contains the toxic remains of burned coal, remained stable.
The flooding from Florence has caused 21 hog “lagoons,” which store manure from pig farms, to overflow in North Carolina, possibly contaminating standing water, according to state officials. North Carolina is one of the leading hog-producing states in the country.
Several sewer systems in the region have released untreated or partly treated sewage and storm water into waterways over the last week, local media reported.
(Additional reporting Rich McKay in Atlanta and Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Louise Heavens)