Hurricane Florence, weakened but still risky, crashed into the Carolinas on Friday as a giant, slow-moving storm that stranded residents with floodwaters and swamped part of the town of New Bern at the beginning of what could be a dayslong deluge.
The storm's intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to 90 miles per hour (135 kph) by nightfall.
At noon, the wobbly center of Florence was about 25 miles (45 kilometers) southwest of Wilmington, its winds down to 80 mph (130 kmh), forecasters said. Days ahead of the storm, about 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were warned to evacuate before its outer bands reached the coast Thursday.
But that, combined with the storm's slowing forward movement and heavy rains, had Gov. Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster.
The hurricane centre said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a sharp rightward swing to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet (3.4 meters) of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet (0.9 meters) of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Among the dead was a mother and her infant child, who were killed after a tree fell on their house. A 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, Lenoir County authorities said.
Downtown New Bern, on the Neuse River also is flooded.
"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth", said Ballance, owner of a seafood restaurant that was flooded.
Although it was once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140mph, the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night. But the hurricane had slowed to a crawl, drenching coastal communities for hours on end.
- Clouds and humid conditions are expected to give way to more sunshine from north to south over the weekend as drier air works its way into the area.
The National Hurricane Center said that freshwater flooding is expected over portions of the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence inches closer to the US East Coast.
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump stands by tweets questioning Puerto Rico death toll: "NO WAY" Trump pushes back on ex-lawyer putting out book, cites "attorney-client privilege" Wealthiest Republican supporter in OH quits party MORE, who has been in constant communication with state leaders, declared a state of emergency in North and SC and Virginia ahead of the hurricane. The rains are anticipated to continue for days, and flooding is likely to worsen as more rivers spill over their banks.
The center of the eye of the hurricane made landfall in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and was moving slowly westward just south of Wilmington.
Rainfall totals exceeding 16 inches thus far have been reported at several locations across southeastern North Carolina. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with almost 4 inches of water, he calculated.
A tornado watch was also in effect for parts of North Carolina. Waters will rise further as tides are expected to come back.
The NWS reported "lots of tree damage, debris and power lines down" across Harkers Island, N.C. Gusty winds will send the ocean and rivers spilling into neighborhoods.