A siege of hurricane-force winds, heavy rain, flooding and storm surge is hammering the Carolina coast as Florence is expected to soon make landfall in North Carolina, causing a life-threatening storm surge. Authorities warned people in low-lying areas to prepare for flooding.
Forecasters predict as much as 101 centimeters (40 inches) of rain for some parts of North Carolina and storm surges as high as 4 meters - taller than many houses. "Now it's just taking the brunt of the storm".
North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centers in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities. Here's why this storm threatens not only the coast but millions of people inland. "We can not underestimate this storm".
"Don't relax, don't get complacent".
Bill Saffo, Mayor of Wilmington, near where the storm hit, told CNN he had never seen a storm stay over his town as long as Florence is forecast to. "Today the threat becomes a reality", he said.
At 9 a.m., the center of Florence was wobbling about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of Wilmington, its winds down to 85 mph (140 kmh), according to the hurricane center.
"Right now we have extreme flooding and storm surge".
The water could reach up to 11 feet high between Cape Fear and Cape Lookout in North Carolina "with locally higher amounts in the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo, and Bay Rivers", NHC said. That's enough water to fill the Empire State Building almost 40,000 times.
More than 1,925 flights have been cancelled with most regional airports along the coast now closed until Saturday.
More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm began buffeting the coast, and more than 12,000 were in shelters.
Although Florence has been downgraded from a category four to a category two storm, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent. So far, the power is on - Waffle House is open".
Residents wade through deep floodwater to retrieve belongings from the Trent Court public housing apartments after the Neuse River went over its banks during Hurricane Florence September 13, 2018 in New Bern, United States. Forecasters said catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected well inland over the next few days as Florence crawls across the Carolinas. "And you don't need power to sling booze", said owner Eli Ellsworth.
Tens of thousands are without power in North Carolina. By Thursday afternoon, 220 evacuees had arrived to fill each cabin, bringing with them 95 children and 55 dogs, camp director Tim Brady said.
"Florence is still a unsafe storm", said Rebecca Fuller, a meteorologist with Radiant Solutions in Gaithersburg, Maryland. "Someone is driving up a horse".
More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel at the height of the storm, and many more who defied evacuation orders held out hope of being rescued.
The team, made up of seven guardsmen from Huntington, are traveling with 14 others to Sampson, Columbus, and Robinson Counties in North Carolina. Eight churches and several restaurants are supplying free meals for evacuees until at least Tuesday night. "When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths". The SPCA of Northeastern NC asked the community to foster any animals without hurricane-proof kennels. "We're able", he said.
"The shelters are not taking dogs", Ramirez said.