Slow-moving Florence batters NC with heavy flooding, power outages

The National Hurricane Center said Florence came ashore near the town of Wrightsville Beach, almost 10 kilometers east of the city of Wilmington, with maximum sustained winds of 150 kilometers per hour and higher gusts.

In Myrtle Beach, rescuers discovered a dead mother and her baby, two of at least five deaths blamed on the storm, after spending much of the day trying to cut through debris and a towering tree that crashed through their roof.

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

Wind gusts of up to 100 miles per hour were reported at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, the hurricane center said. The Ahold Delhaize USA chain said on its website that it has temporarily shut 126 stores in North Carolina, 53 in SC and four in Virginia.

"It truly is really about the whole size of this storm", National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham told The Associated Press.

In New Bern, where a curfew was in place, city authorities said hundreds of people had been rescued from homes inundated with water.

The National Hurricane Center downgraded it to a tropical storm on Friday afternoon, but warned that life-threatening storm surges - in which water is pushed by a storm over land that would normally be dry - and catastrophic freshwater flooding were still expected.

Florence remains a Category 1 storm, and it's spinning hurricane-force winds up to 70 miles from its center.

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As the giant, 400-mile-wide hurricane pounded away, it unloaded heavy rain, flattened trees, chewed up roads and knocked out power to more than 600,000 homes and businesses.

Rainfall will be one of the most destructive elements of hurricane Florence, with heavy rain triggering risky flash floods and potential landslides. But the hurricane had slowed to a crawl as it traced the North Carolina-South Carolina shoreline, drenching coastal communities for hours on end.

Speaking with NPR's Morning Edition, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper described the storm as "an uninvited brute who doesn't want to leave".

"This storm has been hovering over us for a while, and we expect it to continue to hover over us", Parker said. The National Hurricane Center in Miami says more than 16 inches of rain have fallen at locations in southeast North Carolina and another 20 to 25 inches is on the way.

"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", the hurricane center said. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with almost 4 inches (10 centimetres) of water, he calculated. A 78-year-old man was electrocuted attempting to connect extension cords while another man perished when he was blown down by high winds while checking on his hunting dogs, a county spokesman said. He was pleased to get the texts, a sign that he still had cell phone reception, and made a decision to go rev up his generator that is now powering is refrigerator and his satellite TV, which he's spent a portion of Friday watching.

The wind howled and sheets of rain splattered against windows of a hotel before dawn in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the power failed.

More than 2,700 people took refuge at shelters, according to Horry County Spokesperson Kelly Moore.

North Carolina utilities have estimated that as many as 2.5 million state residents could be left without power, the state's Department of Public Safety said.

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