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Food and water airlift planned as storms sweep east coast of America

A flooded cemetery is seen during heavy rains from Florence in Marion, South Carolina Picture Gerald Herbert/AP
By Associated Press Reporters

Officials in the US plan to airlift food and water to a city of nearly 120,000 people as rescuers elsewhere pull inland residents from homes threatened by swollen rivers.

Wilmington has been cut off from the rest of North Carolina by the still-rising floodwaters from Florence,

The spreading disaster claimed additional lives on Sunday, with at least 17 people confirmed dead, and the nation's top emergency official said other states were in the path this week.

"Not only are you going to see more impact across North Carolina but we're also anticipating you are about to see a lot of damage going through West Virginia, all the way up to Ohio as the system exits out," Brock Long of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Sunday.

In Wilmington, the state's eighth-largest city, residents waited for hours outside stores and restaurants for basic necessities like water.

Police guarded the door of one store, and only 10 people were allowed inside at a time.

County commission chairman Woody White said officials were planning for food and water to be flown into the coastal city.

"Our roads are flooded," he said. "There is no access to Wilmington."

About 70 miles away from the coast, residents near the Lumber River stepped from their homes directly into boats floating in their front gardens. River forecasts showed the scene could be repeated in towns as far as 250 miles inland as waters rise for days.

Downgraded to a tropical depression, Florence was still massive. Radar showed parts of the sprawling storm over six states, with North and South Carolina in the bull's-eye.

In North Carolina, fears of what could be the worst flooding in the state's history led officials to order tens of thousands to evacuate, though it was not clear how many had fled or even could.

The storm's death toll climbed to 17 when authorities said a three-month-old child was killed when a tree fell on a mobile home in North Carolina.

Three people died in weather-related traffic accidents, officials said.

Victor Merlos was overjoyed to find a store open for business in Wilmington since he had about 20 relatives staying at his apartment, which still had power. "I have everything I need for my whole family," he said.

Nearby, a Waffle House restaurant limited breakfast customers to one biscuit and one drink, all takeaway, with the price of two dollars per item.

Kenneth Campbell had put on waterproof waders intending to check out his home in Lumberton, but he did not bother when he saw the Coast Guard and murky waters in his neighbourhood.

"I'm not going to waste my time. I already know," he said.

As rivers swelled, state regulators and environmental groups were monitoring the threat from gigantic pig and poultry farms located in low-lying, flood-prone areas.

The industrial-scale farms contain vast pits of animal faeces and urine that can pose a significant pollution threat if they are breached or inundated by floodwaters.

In past hurricanes, flooding at dozens of farms also left hundreds of thousands of dead pigs, chickens and other decomposing livestock bobbing in floodwaters.

Some stream gauges used to monitor river levels failed when they became submerged, but others showed water levels rising steadily, with forecasts calling for rivers to at or near record levels.

The Defence Department said about 13,500 military personnel were assigned to help relief efforts.

Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of up to 7,500 people living within a mile of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Little River, about 100 miles from the North Carolina coast.

The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, population 200,000.

Near the flooded-out town of New Bern, where about 455 people had to be rescued from the swirling flood waters, water completely surrounded churches, businesses and homes.

In the neighbouring town of Trenton, streets were turned to rivers full of brown water.

The rain was unrelenting in Cheraw, a town of about 6,000 people in northeastern South Carolina.

Streets were flooded and police chief Keith Thomas warned people not to drive, but the local food and petrol store had customers.

"As you can tell, they're not listening to me," he said.

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