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Florence's winds fell fast. Flooding will create more problems.



Tropical Storm Florence

Hurricane Florence made landfall at 7:15 a.m. Friday and began dumping water on the East Coast. 

While wind speeds slowed enough for it to be downgraded to a tropical depression by Monday, IU experts on hurricanes and disaster management said the main concern for Florence is the rain caused by the lingering storm. 

“This is quite a unique thing that we don’t see a lot for a landfalling storm,” said Chahn Kieu, an assistant professor of atmospheric science in IU’s geological sciences department.

Florence has been stuck in place for several days, raining almost constantly. This abundance of rain can build up quickly and combine with high tides to create a storm surge, an atypical rise in water that can reach far inland. 

Storm surges can block rivers and natural waterways, making it difficult for water to recede from flooded areas.

Kieu said most hurricanes disappear 24 hours after they reach land, but storms including Florence and last year’s Hurricane Harvey are distinctive because they stick around. This lingering can cause massive surges, which can cause significant damage. 

According to the National Hurricane Center, most of the 1,500 people killed in Hurricane Katrina died as a result of storm surge.

IU alumna and former Indiana Daily Student Editor-in-Chief Hannah Alani is now a reporter for The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina. She stayed in Charleston during the storm to report on its effects.

While Alani said Charleston went relatively unaffected, flooding in the flat northern region of the state is creating environmental concerns. Places with coal ash plants and industrial hog farms could release dangerous toxins into the surrounding area.

The region, called The Pee Dee, is where South Carolina grows many of its cash crops such as soybeans, cotton and peanuts. Alani said these crops normally aren’t harvested until October.

“If those crop fields become flooded, that would bring catastrophic economic damage to the state and to farmers,” Alani said. 

On Sunday afternoon, Alani said power was still out for many residents. Roughly 500,000 buildings were without power across North and South Carolina as of 4 p.m. Monday, CBS News reported

Rescue teams and disaster workers are still working to help residents affected by the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has positioned 1,150 Urban Search and Rescue personnel in the Carolinas, Maryland and Virginia. 

The American Red Cross said on its website nearly 2,200 disaster workers have been deployed to help those affected by Florence. 

Kelley School of Business associate professor Alfonso Pedraza-Martinez specializes in humanitarian operations and crisis management. He said while humanitarian operations have some time to prepare for hurricanes due to prediction technology, they can’t prepare for everything that might come their way.

“There are no roads, there is no electricity," said Pedraza-Martinez. "There is still a lot of rain and flooding and that always makes operations more complicated.” 

However, that preparation appears to have paid off. Pedraza-Martinez said the current death toll, 24, is low for a storm like Florence.

For people looking to help, Pedraza-Martinez said unless they are trained disaster workers, people should avoid going to regions affected by Florence to volunteer.

“If you have no experience and you have no skills to help, you may become a victim of the disaster,” Pedraza-Martinez said. 

He said unskilled volunteers can use food and shelter that could instead go to people displaced by the storm.

Pedraza-Martinez said he suggests students get involved remotely, either donating money or supplies. Students should check organization websites to determine what supplies they actually need instead of sending useless items such as winter coats that waste time, space and labor. Money donations give organizations the flexibility to allocate aid where it is needed. 

“There are ways to help that help and ways that don’t,” Pedraza-Martinez said. 

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