WILMINGTON, North Carolina - Hurricane "Florence" lumbered ashore in North Carolina with howling 90 miles per hour (145 kph) winds and terrifying storm surge early Friday, ripping apart buildings and knocking out power to a half-million homes and businesses as it settled in for what could be a long and extraordinarily destructive drenching.
The centre of the slow-moving storm, downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane after it came ashore Friday afternoon, was almost stalled over SC early Saturday, about 55 kilometres west of Myrtle Beach, moving west-southwest at just 8 km/h and scooping massive amounts of moisture from the sea.
Officials in New Bern, which dates to the early 18th century, said more than 100 people were rescued from floods and the downtown area was under water by Friday afternoon. The storm was expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern SC on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said.
"The only difference is, back then it was within 14 days", he said.
Streets remain flooded as waters continue to rise from torrential rainfall. With Florence, "we're looking at the same amount of rainfall in three days".
As they waited for emergency workers, they heard neighbors calling for help. Lt. David Daniels of the New Bern Police Department told "CBS This Morning" that 911 calls in his town are being answered and the "system is up and working". The entire area had lost electricity, and some people were in chest-deep water while others retreated to attics, she said.
Swift-water rescue teams from out of state helped local rescuers evacuate people whenever conditions allowed. A flash flood warning for all of Southeastern North Carolina, including New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties, was in effect until at least 4 p.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service said in a bulletin.
Videos on social media show the water reaching the windows of some houses in the Belhaven area.
In Morehead City, Brooke Kittrell rode out the storm Thursday and Friday with her boyfriend aboard their docked boat, hoping it didn't break loose and slam something. More are expected, as the storm could bring winds up to 45 miles per hour around the area, according to Durham County emergency management officials.
"I honestly cried", Kittrell said.
By Friday morning, the shore was flooded, and buildings were damaged, in video she put up on Facebook.
More than 20,000 people were in 157 shelters in North Carolina, with 7,000 more in SC shelters. The flooding began on barrier islands in North Carolina and then spread into coastal and river communities there and in SC, swamping the white sands and golf courses in North Myrtle Beach.
Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm with diminished winds, but it has stalled over the Wilmington region as predicted and will continue drenching the area with historic and catastrophic rain, the National Hurricane Center said in a 5 a.m. briefing.
Tropical Storm Florence is continuing to dump unsafe amounts of rain as it continues its slow slog across the Carolinas.