The Latest: Death toll rises to 43 in aftermath of Florence

The Latest on the effects of Hurricane Florence (all times local):

8:15 p.m.

Authorities say the death toll has now risen to 43 dead in the aftermath of former Hurricane Florence.

A statement released by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said Friday evening that there are now 32 confirmed dead in that state. The statement says a 46-year-old man in Brunswick County died when a tree he was cutting fell on him. Other deaths have been reported earlier in South Carolina and Virginia.

Cooper, meanwhile, has praised efforts of first responders who evacuated people from rising floodwaters. His statement says that in the past week, first responders and emergency teams have conducted nearly 5,000 rescues in storm-ravaged areas. That’s twice as many people as were saved after Hurricane Matthew.

About 56,000 homes and business remain without power as of Friday afternoon.

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6:45 p.m.

State transportation officials are reiterating that travel remains dangerous in 17 southeastern North Carolina counties where hundreds of roads remain closed and the threat of rising floodwaters continues in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

The number of closures on N.C. Department of Transportation roads dropped Friday to 650 from a peak of 1,600 on Monday. Yet the Lumber, Cape Fear and Neuse river basins will see floodwaters crest through the weekend and into next week. The department, the N.C. Highway Patrol and emergency officials are urging motorists not to travel in the state’s 17 worst-hit counties where many roads are still under water.

The affected counties are Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, New Hanover, Pender, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland and Wayne. Motorists are advised not to travel in the area south of U.S. 70 and east of U.S. 1 unless it is critical.

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6:20 p.m.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, a North Carolina native and three-time All-Pro, has started a fund for hurricane relief by donating $100,000 to the cause on Friday. He also asked teammates, other NFL players and fans to step up and donate as well.

“Seeing the reality of these people affected by the hurricane made me want to do something to help,” Peppers said.

The 38-year-old NFL player was born in Wilson, North Carolina and played at Southern Nash High School before attending the University of North Carolina, where he played football and basketball. Peppers was the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft by the Panthers in 2002.

Donations can be made through www.Panthers.com or the Foundation for the Carolinas.

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5:50 p.m.

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has formally called for a special session of the legislature in October to begin dealing with Hurricane Florence relief, but Republican legislative leaders want the date moved up.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger wrote Cooper on Friday asking the session be called for Sept. 28, instead of Oct. 9 as Cooper announced Thursday. But Cooper’s signed proclamation for Oct. 9 was received by the General Assembly minutes before lawmakers released their letter.

The General Assembly could still force the earlier start if GOP leaders got enough signatures to set their own session. Berger and Moore say lawmakers should act quickly to show Congress it’s ready to cover the state’s share of federal aid. They also want to pass a law making clear teachers in closed schools will get paid.

Cooper says North Carolina damage will be in the billions of dollars.

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4:45 p.m.

South Carolina’s state-owned utility says it expects floodwaters to enter a coal ash pond at one of its closed power plants.

Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said Friday that the environmental impacts of the overtopping of Pond 1 at the Granger plant near Conway should not be significant. Gore says nearly all the ash has been removed from Pond 1 and water pumped into it to prevent the dike from breaking.

Gore said in a statement Santee Cooper has placed a 2 ½-foot (72-centimeter) high inflatable berm on top of a second pond that has more coal ash in it. She estimates 200,000 tons (180 metric tons) of ash are in a corner of the pond furthest from the rising Waccamaw River.

Gore says forecasters don’t know yet if the river will top Pond 2. But she says crews have added silt fencing and a floating environmental containment boom to lessen any potential environmental impacts from the recent passage of Tropical Storm Florence.

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4:10 p.m.

Authorities say Interstate 95 is being reopened in the northern part of South Carolina.

State Department of Transportation officials said the Great Pee Dee River is receding and inspectors were able to check the I-95 bridges over the waterway and clear them for travel Friday afternoon. The bridges between Florence and Dillon were closed for two days after Tropical Storm Florence walloped the Carolinas, dumping heavy rain before weakening and moving on.

Northbound travelers won’t be able to get much further on the main north-south highway on the East Coast. I-95 is closed in both directions a short distance into North Carolina at the Lumber River in Lumberton and officials say will likely remain closed until the end of the month.

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4:00 p.m.

Floodwaters have breached a dam holding back a large reservoir at a North Carolina power plant, and coal ash from an adjacent dump could be flowing into the Cape Fear River.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the company doesn’t believe Friday’s breach at the L.V. Sutton Power Station near Wilmington poses a significant threat for increased flooding. Rivers are already at or near record levels a week after Hurricane Florence hit the state a week ago and weakened.

Floodwaters from the Cape Fear opened several breaches overnight in the earthen dam at Sutton Lake, a reservoir at the power plant. Water from the lake then flooded one of three large coal ash dumps lining the lakeshore. Sheehan says the company can’t rule out that ash might be escaping into the river.

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3:50 p.m.

President Donald Trump says South Carolina is in for a “tough one” as flood waters continue to rise.

But Trump says federal, state and local leaders and first responders are up for the challenge.

Trump says he visited the storm region earlier in the week, and “they’re really ready. They’re really ready.”

The president says that North Carolina is “almost at the stage where they’re rebuilding.” But as for South Carolina, he says, “watch tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough one. “

Trump predicts that for South Carolina, the flooding “will be the biggest they’ve ever had.”

Trump adds that officials will not rest until the region recovers.

The president spoke about the storm damage during an appearance in North Las Vegas.

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3:40 p.m.

A North Carolina university forced to shut down because of Hurricane Florence is charting a course toward resuming classes.

A statement from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Friday said the school anticipates opening the campus to faculty and staff for a voluntary return as early as Sept. 26. It said classes will resume on Oct. 1, with residence halls opening as soon as 9 a.m. on Sept. 29, subject to the status of ongoing repairs. The school said it bases its decision on information from local and state authorities.

The school is advising against beginning travel back to Wilmington until state and local authorities announce it is safe to do so. Officials said If authorities have not announced it is safe to travel back to Wilmington with ample time before the anticipated dates for faculty, staff and students to return, UNCW will send an amended timeline.

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2:50 p.m.

Kevin Tovornik is tearing up the house he has owned for 20 years in Conway, South Carolina, to try to save it.

He used a flatbed hay trailer to take all the furniture to a donated warehouse Thursday. Tovornik said Friday he was trying to get back to the house