NEW BERN, NC — Hurricane Florence is inching along after making landfall in North Carolina, trapping people in flooded homes and promising days of destruction and human suffering to come.
The Category 1 hurricane’s storm surges, punishing winds and rain are turning some towns into rushing rivers — and the storm is expected to crawl over parts of the Carolinas into the weekend, pounding some of the same areas over and over.
“It’s getting worse,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said late Friday morning. “The storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days.”
In the besieged North Carolina city of New Bern alone, rescuers by midmorning Friday had plucked more than 200 people from rising waters, but about 150 more had to wait as conditions worsened and a storm surge reached 10 feet, officials said.
Florence’s rain will reach 40 inches in some parts of the Carolinas, forecasters said. Rainfall totals will be similar to those in hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in 1999, Chris Wamsley of the National Weather Service said Friday morning.
“The only difference is, back then it was within 14 days,” he said. With Florence, “we’re looking at the same amount of rainfall in three days.”
By Friday morning, Florence already had:
• Sapped power to more than 500,000 customers in North and South Carolina, emergency officials said.
• Forced 26,000 people into more than 200 emergency shelters across the Carolinas.
• Forced more than 60 people to evacuate a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after part of the roof collapsed, city officials said.
• Prompted 4,000 National Guard soldiers and 40,000 electric workers to mobilize in response.
• Canceled more than 1,100 flights along the East Coast on Friday and Saturday.
• Location of Florence: By 11 a.m. Friday, Florence’s center was about 20 miles southwest of Wilmington and was crawling at 3 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph.
• Prolonged, dangerous winds: Hurricane-force winds extend 70 miles from Florence’s center. The storm is expected to lumber into far southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina through Saturday, punishing the area over and over with rain and damaging winds.
• Flooding for miles: Up to 40 inches of rain, and storm surges pushing water inland and not allowing rivers to drain, will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding,” the National Hurricane Center says. “You’re going to have flooding miles and miles inland,” the center’s director, Ken Graham, said Friday morning.
• Areas threatened: A hurricane warning is in place for South Santee River in South Carolina to Bogue Inlet, North Carolina, and Pamlico Sound. Surges of 10 feet were reported early Friday in Morehead City and elsewhere in North Carolina, the National Weather Service said.
• Record gusts: Wilmington’s airport recorded a 105-mph wind gust Friday morning — the fastest measured since Hurricane Helene hit the city in 1958, the NHC said.
• Thanks from Trump: President Trump tweeted his thanks to first responders Friday morning. “Incredible job being done by FEMA, First Responders, Law Enforcement and all. Thank you!” he tweeted.
• Nuclear plant shutdown: A nuclear power plant in Brunswick, North Carolina, shut down operations because of the storm, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Twitter Friday morning. “Plant procedures call for the reactors to be shut down before the anticipated onset of hurricane force winds,” agency spokesman Joey Ledford told CNN. Federal officials midweek had said they weren’t concerned about that plant or five other nuclear plants in the storm’s path, calling them “hardened.” Expert scientists, however, had said they were worried about Brunswick because of scant public information about its readiness.
Rescues and narrow escapes
More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate before the streets became inundated.
Florence’s circulation was pushing water ashore, especially north of its eye, in coastal or riverside towns like New Bern and Belhaven, turning land to lakes.
In New Bern, where dozens awaited rescue Friday morning, Peggy Perry said rising water forced her into the upper level of her home.
“In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest,” said Perry, who along with three relatives, was trapped early Friday. “We are stuck in the attic.”
Swift-water rescue teams from out of state helped local rescuers evacuate people whenever conditions allowed. One team from Maryland helped with about 40 rescues in New Bern starting Thursday, member Mitchell Rusland said.
Craven County, where New Bern is located, had logged more than 100 service calls from residents trapped on their roofs or in their cars, county spokeswoman Amber Parker said early Friday.
In Belhaven, the Pungo River roared into town, crashing up against homes at a waist-high level and higher late Thursday and early Friday, video from Amy Johnson showed.
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.
New Bern’s 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.