Tropical Depression Fred swirled over West Virginia early Wednesday and dumped heavy rain over the northeastern U.S., threatening to unleash mudslides and flash floods in upstate New York after closing interstate highways in the lower Appalachians. Tornado watches remained in effect for mountainous areas of Virginia and the Carolinas.
Unconfirmed tornados unleashed by the stormy weather already caused damage in places in Georgia and North Carolina on Tuesday as Fred moved north, well inland from the coastal areas that usually bear the brunt of tropical weather. One death was reported — a Las Vegas man whose car hydroplaned and flipped into a ditch near Panama City, Florida, hours after the storm moved ashore, Florida Highway Patrol said.
About 25,000 customers were without power early Wednesday according to the utility tracker poweroutage.us, most of them in West Virginia and North Carolina, where steady downpours swelled waterways and washed rocks and mud onto highways. Multiple landslides closed Interstate 19 through the Nantahala Gorge, according to the North Carolina transportation department.
The National Hurricane Center said Fred had top sustained winds of 25 mph (35 kph) and was moving northeast past Charleston, West Virginia, at 20 mph (32 kph) Wednesday morning.
Schools were closed and people evacuated along three rain-swollen rivers in far eastern Tennessee. “The areas around the Pigeon, French Broad and Nolichucky Rivers have become unsafe,” said the order from Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger, which was posted to Facebook late Tuesday by the Cocke County Emergency Management Agency. Four shelters were opened for people who needed a place to go.
Schools in Lincoln County, West Virginia also canceled classes Wednesday due to high water from heavy rains.
And in North Carolina, water rescues were reported in Canton, a town west of Asheville that was hit hard by flooding. A rescue team from the Wilmington area, which came from eastern North Carolina to help, performed water rescues of 13 adults and two children in the Canton area, New Hanover County Fire Rescue said on its Twitter feed. Photos posted by the team showed rescue personnel in bright yellow vests staging rafts with outboard motors at the edge of yards that were submerged with muddy water up to the front doors of multiple homes.
As many as 14 possible tornadoes were reported across Georgia and the Carolinas on Tuesday, according to the weather service. Transylvania County, North Carolina, declared a state of emergency after 10 inches (25 centimeters) fell, sending mud and rock onto highways, flooding roads and destroying at least one home.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Grace was strengthening after unleashing torrential rain on earthquake-damaged Haiti. Grace’s sustained winds grew to 65 mph (100 kph) early Wednesday as it moved between southeastern Cuba and Jamaica, and could be a hurricane before hitting Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula late Wednesday or early Thursday.
It was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south south-east of Grand Cayman where a tropical storm warning was in effect, along with the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico from north of Cancun to Campeche and from south of Punta Herrero to Puerto Costa Maya. A hurricane warning is in effect for the Yucatan from Cancun to Punta Herrero, including Cozumel.
Tropical Storm Henri, meanwhile, was about 160 miles (260 kilometers) south-southwest of Bermuda. The small tropical cyclone had 65 mph (100 kph) winds and was expected to circle widely around the island, the hurricane center said.
Contributors include Associated Press writers Jeff Amy in Atlanta and Bryan Gallion in Raleigh, North Carolina.