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Hurricane Florence pounds the Carolinas, water rescues underway

Posted at 4:49 AM, Sep 14, 2018

Hurricane Florence is inflicting its long, agonizing assault on the North Carolina coast, with winds whipping at 90 mph and life-threatening storm surge pushing ashore as the lumbering storm's eyewall begins to reach the coast.

The Category 1 hurricane's center is expected to crash onshore sometime Friday and unload flash flooding, pounding wind and towering storm surges at least through Saturday. More trees will come down, more power lines will fall, and the number of power outages will go up, said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center.

Florence's rain will be relentless, with up to 40 inches expected in some parts of the Carolina coasts, forecasters said. Gusty winds will send the ocean and rivers spilling into neighborhoods.

Already Thursday, streets were transformed into raging streams and massive waves surged along the Outer Banks.

"There's already water (in the) bottom part of people's houses," Todd Willis, who lives in Kennel Beach, North Carolina, said Thursday night. "This is just the beginning."

Latest developments

• It's closing in: The eyewall is starting to reach the North Carolina coast, the National Hurricane Center said around 4 a.m. Friday. Florence's landfall -- when the center of the eye reaches land -- is likely to happen mid- to late morning Friday, CNN forecasters said.

• Downgraded but dangerous: Though now a Category 1 storm, hurricane-force winds extend 80 miles from Florence's center, and it will linger for days, with prolonged winds and rain making it more dangerous.

• Ominous warning: "Don't focus on the category of the storm. Hurricane Florence will slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland. This will cause extremely dangerous flooding," the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned.

• Areas threatened: Hurricane warnings and storm surge warnings are in effect for South Santee River in South Carolina to Duck, North Carolina.

• Location of Florence: By 4 a.m. Friday, the hurricane was about 30 miles (55 km) east of Wilmington and was crawling at 6 mph (9 kmh). At 90 mph, its wind speed was dipping but still dangerous.

• Power outages: More than 180,000 homes and businesses are without power in North Carolina, emergency officials said.

• Agitated waves: A storm surge of 10 feet above normal levels was reported in Morehead City, North Carolina, the National Weather Service said.

• Flights canceled: More than 1,300 flights along the East Coast were canceled through Friday.

Rescues and narrow escapes

More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate before the streets became inundated.

Morehead City resident Rebecca Marson decided not to evacuate because her surgeon husband wanted to remain behind with other first responders. They're riding out the storm at their home with four children -- ages 11 to 17 -- Marson's friend, four dogs, two chinchillas, a cat and a lizard.

Marson said they'd lost power and the winds were howling outside, but they had enough food and water to last them for days.

Officials urged residents at risk of flooding to take shelter at the highest points of their homes, such as rooftops, and to stay away from cars and roadways.

In New Bern, WCTI television employees fled their studio Thursday night due to rising flood waters. Footage posted on social media showed a meteorologist saying on air that they had to evacuate. He then leaves the studio and leaves a radar of Florence's rain bands playing on a loop.

In Jacksonville, North Carolina, city officials posted photos of toppled gas pumps and a downed trees early Friday, warning residents to take shelter and avoid roadways.

Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.

Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic.