Hurricane Florence Hammers the Carolinas as It Approaches Landfall

September 14, 2018 Updated: September 14, 2018    

WILMINGTON, N.C.—Rain, wind and rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence swamped the Carolinas early on Friday as the massive storm crawled toward the coast, threatening millions of people with record rainfall and punishing surf.

It was set to inundate almost all of North Carolina in several feet of water, State Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference, while National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear predicted up to eight months of rain in two or three days.

People walk along a flooded local street
People walk on a local street as water from Neuse River starts flooding houses upon Hurricane Florence coming ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

Florence was expected to make landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, at midday, and forecasters said its size meant it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day.

Satellite image of the hurricane
This enhanced satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence off the eastern coast of the United States on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 at 5:52 p.m. EDT. (NOAA via AP)

With the brunt of the storm yet to come, a gauge on the Neuse River in New Bern, a city near the coast, was already recording 10 feet (3 meters) of inundation, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Park flooded with rising water
Union Point Park is flooded with rising water from the Neuse and Trent Rivers in New Bern, N.C., Sept. 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence already has inundated coastal streets with ocean water and left tens of thousands without power, and more is to come. (Gray Whitley/Sun Journal via AP)

The downtown area of the city of 30,000 people was underwater and around 150 people were waiting to be rescued, city authorities said on Twitter.

At least 188,000 people were without power in North Carolina and South Carolina early on Friday. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and restoration could take weeks.

Key Warnings from NHC

“A life-threatening storm surge is already occurring along portions of the North Carolina coast and will continue through today and tonight,” the NHC said in an alert posted at 5:00 a.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 14.

“This surge is also likely along portions of the South Carolina coast,” the warning continues.

“The greatest storm surge inundation is expected between Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras, including the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers and western Pamlico Sound.”

The NHC also warns of “life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding” through early next week.

“Damaging hurricane-force winds are occurring along portions of the North Carolina coast and are expected to spread to portions of the South Carolina coast” later on Friday.

The alert also cautions against the presence of large swells affecting Bermuda, portions of the U.S. East Coast, and the northwestern and central Bahamas, “resulting in life-threatening surf and rip currents.”

Graphic of hurricane track
Key warnings published by the NHC at 5:00 a.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (National Hurricane Center / NOAA)

‘Spooked’

Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane on Thursday evening with peak winds of 90 mph (150 km/h). Its center was moving west at only 6 mph (9 km/h) and about 50 miles south of Morehead City at around 1 a.m. (0500 GMT Friday).

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia, jamming westbound roads and highways for miles.

Roads and intersections on North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier islands were inundated.

At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.

The NHC said the threat of tornadoes was increasing as Florence neared shore and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said the heavy rain could trigger landslides in the west of his state.

NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook the storm surges could push as far as 2 miles (3 km) inland. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian Mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Some residents ignored calls to evacuate.

Near the beach in Wilmington, a Waffle House restaurant, part of a chain with a reputation for staying open during disasters, had no plan to close even if power was lost, and there were lines to get in on Thursday evening.

Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but then reconsidered.

Instead, they drove 150 miles (240 km) inland to his mother’s house in Durham.

“I’ve never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked,” he said.

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