ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Flooding is a problem in North Carolina's New Hanover County. At a press conference this afternoon, New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon urged people who had not evacuated in time to stay home and let emergency responders do their jobs.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
ED MCMAHON: Know that we're out there. If you've left, we're going to do everything we can to keep all your property safe. And if you've stayed, then just stay put. And together, as you can see, we'll - we're going to get through this. We always do.
SHAPIRO: Five people have died so far in this storm, including two in the city of Wilmington after a tree crashed onto a family's house this morning.
Chris Coudriet is the New Hanover County manager and joins us now. Welcome.
CHRIS COUDRIET: Thank you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Describe what you've seen so far today.
COUDRIET: We have seen an onslaught of wind and rain that really began late last night and continued on through the day. And we believe still - we still have hours to go. The wind still is blowing at more than 40 miles an hour, sustained gusts well above 50 and 60. We've seen the rainfall estimates lowered from 20 inches less now back up to perhaps 26 inches. So it's really wet and really windy.
SHAPIRO: Twenty-six inches - you're talking about more than 2 feet of water. How are the rescue efforts going?
COUDRIET: We have been blessed to this point to not have very many rescue efforts necessary. There was the reference to unfortunately two deaths earlier today. That was the only entrapment that we had. But other than that, we have been very lucky and very blessed.
SHAPIRO: Do you think that's because most people heeded the evacuation notice?
COUDRIET: I think our community is very resilient and understands the threats that hurricanes and tropical events pose to our region. And so when the orders to evacuate are given, particularly off the Barrier Islands, people listen, take heed. And when you live inland, you're accustomed to rain and wind, and you do your very best to shelter in place. I think, yes, our people responded and did their best to move out of harm's way.
SHAPIRO: This storm is moving so slowly. How long do you think it will be until people will be able to go out, come back home, assess the damage?
COUDRIET: Well, I want to emphasize not going out at all until this storm is well beyond southeastern North Carolina. I would like to think based on the forecast that we're seeing you will see a much more aggressive response system in our community certainly at daybreak tomorrow. To your point, it is moving slow. That's what's creating the challenge. So the message to everybody is stay in place until the winds are gone, and then begin to think about your personal property.
SHAPIRO: Can you tell at all how much damage this has caused, whether the city of Wilmington is going to be completely different after this storm or whether it'll be a little bit of cleanup and then move on?
COUDRIET: Well, certainly there are lots of downed trees. This is a beautiful, historic, highly vegetative community - grand oak trees. And we are losing those based on the winds that have come. We've had more wind in terms of strength than we've seen since the 1950s. This storm was less intense than Hurricane Fran and Floyd in the 1990s, but nonetheless the wind speeds have been measured greater here. So there's going to be cleanup. We're not seeing lots of storm surge - thank goodness for that - but we are going to see a lot of downed trees in our beautiful community.
SHAPIRO: Are you getting what you need from state and federal authorities?
COUDRIET: We are. We have an excellent partnership. We have been in constant communication particularly with our state EOC. They're making the resources we need available. And they're in close partnership with the federal government.
SHAPIRO: So what is your biggest need going to be in the days ahead?
COUDRIET: Really focusing on getting the debris out of the roadways, ensuring that the power lines that have come down are deactivated so that people don't put themselves in harm's way or that our first responders are in harm's way. So we really need to put an emphasis on working with our power suppliers and get those lines off the road and turned off.
SHAPIRO: That's Chris Coudriet in New Hanover County, N.C., where Hurricane Florence, now a tropical storm, came ashore early this morning. Thank you for speaking with us today.
COUDRIET: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.