The center of Hurricane Florence has smashed into North Carolina with a storm surge of up to 10 feet that has pushed miles inland and screaming winds of 90 mph.
More than 60 people including children had to be pulled from a collapsing motel in Jacksonville at the height of the storm and many more who defied evacuation orders were waiting to be rescued.
Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at 7.15am with winds of up to 90 mph. At least 12,000 people sought refuge in shelters in the state and more than 415,000 homes and businesses were reported to be without power as the outer band of the storm approached.
The hurricane knocked a basketball-sized hole in the wall of the Triangle Motor Inn causing cinder blocks to crumble and the roof to fall down – while residents were still in their rooms.
Police and fire crews had to force their way into rooms to rescue guests who were all taken to a shelter. None were injured.
Rescue teams were also working to free around 150 people trapped in New Bern as city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts warned that the storm surge will increase further as Florence passes over the area.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the Neuse River near the city is more than 10 feet (3.05 meters) high after it burst its banks on Thursday night.
The city warned that people ‘may need to move up to the second story’ but told them to stay put as ‘we are coming to get you.’
Even before Florence hit land, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported ‘life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds’ along the coast of the Carolinas leaving coastal streets inundated with ocean water.
A resident in New Bern, North Carolina, filmed the inside of their flooded home showing ocean water lapping at their feet as Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday
Wind-whipped waves lash the coast at Wilmington, North Carolina, on Friday. Nearly all residents had evacuated following warnings from officials
Florence’s fiercest winds will linger around the coast for hours since the storm was moving forward at only 6 mph. Pictured: The hurricane arriving at Wilmington on Friday
The Hotel Ballast on the Cape Fear River was starting to show signs of structural damage (see ceiling) during the hurricane on Friday
Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at 7.15am on Friday with winds of up to 90 mph
A map from the National Hurricane center shows the probable path of Hurricane Florence over the following week
Screaming winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence’s leading edge whipped the Carolina coast on Thursday night to begin an onslaught that could last for days, leaving a wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising seas.
Like an out of control freight train, Florence entered into Wilmington, a port city of 120,000 people on the North Carolina coast, and started pummeling the city with 100 mph winds early friday.
The city was plunged into darkness after losing its power grid shortly after 5am during some of the fiercest wind bursts.
Damages are starting to appear as large swaths of the roof of Hotel Ballast, a downtown tourism staple, are being peeled off one by one and sucked out into the sky.
The Cape Fear River, which usually lazies from east to west through the city’s historic district, has been transformed into rapids.
Footage from television stations and social media showed raging waters hitting piers and jettys and rushing across coastal roads in seaside communities, including Topsail Beach, north of Wilmington, where storm surge waters damaged beachfront homes.
Forecasters say the combination of a life-threatening storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.
The storm’s intensity diminished as it neared land on Friday, with winds dropping to around 90 mph (144 kph) by nightfall, but forecasters say ‘catastrophic’ freshwater flooding is still expected over parts of the Carolinas.
But that, combined with the storm’s slowing forward movement and heavy rains, had North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster.
‘The worst of the storm is not yet here but these are early warnings of the days to come,’ he said. ‘Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience.’
Forecasters said conditions will deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.
Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph (225 kph), the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.
Flooding is seen New Bern, North Carolina, after early storm surges caused the Neuse River to burst its banks as Hurricane Florence inched closer to the East Coast on Thursday
Waves slam the Oceana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina as Hurricane Florence approaches the area on Thursday
Portions of a boat dock and boardwalk were destroyed by powerful wind and waves in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, on Thursday
A sign warns people away from Union Point Park after is was flooded by the Neuse River in New Bern, North Carolina
At Frying Pan Tower, an observation post 32 miles off of the coast of North Carolina, a live video feed showed the Category 2 storm’s 100mph sustained winds ripping an American flag to shreds on Thursday
Cooper requested additional federal disaster assistance in anticipation of what his office called ‘historic major damage’ across the state.
Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it’s unclear how many did. The homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia.
In North Carolina, 156,068 lost power and 12,000 were in shelters as the storm began buffeting the coast.
The top counties affected were Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender. Officials fear power losses could affect up to three million people.
In South Carolina, more than 400,000 people have evacuated the state’s coast and more than 4,000 people have taken refuge in shelters, officials said.
Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.
A child sits on a mattress at a Hurricane Florence evacuation shelter at Conway High School in Conway, South Carolina
Avair Vereen (left, with her fiance and one of her seven children) and her family took shelter at an evacuation shelter at Conway High School. ‘We live in a mobile home so we were just like ‘No way.’ If we lose the house, oh well, we can get housing. But we can’t replace us so we decided to come here’
An American Red Cross aid worker walks through the cafeteria at Conway High School which is being used as a Hurricane Florence evacuation shelter
Cooper previously warned: ‘Don’t relax, don’t get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality.’
Prisoners were affected, too. 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.
At Frying Pan Tower, an observation post 32 miles off of the coast of North Carolina, a live video feed showed the storm’s 100mph sustained winds ripping an American flag to shreds.
Police have suspended their services in Morehead City and other coastal cities, warning any residents who remain in the evacuation zone that they will be without emergency services until the storm passes.
Carson Grace Toomer, Martin-Maine Wrangel, and Elizabeth Claire Toomer, swim in the Intracoastal Waterway on Thursday as Hurricane Florence approaches in Wilmington, North Carolina
Carson Grace Toomer, Martin-Maine Wrangel, and Elizabeth Claire Toomer jump into the Intracoastal Waterway in Wilmington, North Carolina, where Hurricane Florence is expected to hit early Friday
Shianne Coleman (left) and Austin Gremmel walk in flooded streets as the Neuse River begins to flood its banks in New Bern, North Carolina
The storm surge was expected to reach far inland along North Carolina’s flat coastal plain.
‘Storm surge is not just an ‘ocean’ problem tonight. Significant surge is expected to occur in the NC inlets and rivers, some areas in excess of 9 feet!’ the National Weather Service said in a tweet.
In Wilmington, which could take a direct hit from Florence, wind gusts were stirring up frothy white caps into the Cape Fear River.
‘We’re a little worried about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now,’ said Linda Smith, 67, a retired nonprofit director. ‘I am frightened about what’s coming. We just want prayers from everyone.’
Near the beach in Wilmington, a Waffle House restaurant, part of a chain with a reputation for staying open during disasters, had no plans to close, even if power is lost. It had long lines on Thursday.
In the tiny community of Sea Breeze near Wilmington, Roslyn Fleming, 56, made a video of the inlet where her granddaughter was baptized because ‘I just don’t think a lot of this is going to be here’ later.
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 reconsidered due to its ferocity. Instead, they drove 150 miles inland to his mother’s house in Durham.
‘The anxiety level has dropped substantially,’ Epperson said. ‘I’ve never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked.’
Men pack their belongings after evacuating their house in New Bern, North Carolina after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded their street during Hurricane Florence on Thursday
Residents rush to escape as the water rises in New Bern after storm surges pushed the Neuse River over its bank
Michael Nelson floats in a boat made from a metal tub and fishing floats after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded
Nelson floats in homemade boat. Some parts of New Bern could be flooded with a possible 9-foot storm surge
Residents wade through deep floodwater to retrieve belongings from the Trent Court public housing apartments after the Neuse River went over its banks during in New Bern on Thursday
Water from Neuse River starts flooding houses as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina
In a flash bulletin at 11pm on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said that Florence was 50 miles south of Morehead City, North Carolina, and 60 miles southeast of Wilmington.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 90mph and was moving northwest at six miles per hour.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves nearly 30 feet high as Florence churned toward shore.
As the storm has slowed upon approach, official landfall – when the eye of the storm reaches the shore – is forecast to occur sometime overnight on Friday.
Winds and rain were arriving later in South Carolina, and a few people were still walking on the sand at Myrtle Beach while North Carolina was getting pounded on Thursday. Heavy rainfall began after dark.
By Thursday night, the window to evacuate much of the North Carolina coast had closed, with officials saying that anyone who had not moved inland would have to shelter in place.
Forecasters said that given the storm’s size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds.
Residents in Wilmington wait for a table at Waffle House. Though boarded up, the restaurant remained open on Thursday
Diners are seen in the Wilmington Waffle House. The restaurant chain is famous for remaining open through severe storms
FEMA even uses a ‘Waffle House Index’ to determine how severe a storm is, based on whether the chain shuts down locations or limits its menu. Waffle House pre-stages supplies and relies on generators to remain open during storms
A satellite image shows Hurricane Florence approaching the coast of North Carolina as a Category 2 storm on Thursday
A truck drives through deep water after the Neuse River flooded the street in River Bend, North Carolina on Thursday
‘It truly is really about the whole size of this storm,’ National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. ‘The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact – and we have that.’
HURRICANE FLORENCE IN NUMBERS
The outer bands of wind and rain from a weakened but still deadly Hurricane Florence began lashing North Carolina on Thursday.
As the monster storm moves in for an extended stay, here is a breakdown by numbers:
- Florence clocked 90 mph winds on Thursday after it was downgraded to a Category 1
- The storm was already generating 83-foot waves at sea on Wednesday
- Life-threatening storm surges of up to 13 feet were also forecast in some areas
- Florence is forecast to dump up to 40 inches of rain in some areas after it makes landfall in North and South Carolina
- Potentially 10 trillion gallons of rain is expected in southern states in the next week
- An estimated 10 million people live in areas expected to be placed under a hurricane or storm advisory
- Up to 1.7 million people were ordered to evacuated ahead of the hurricane
The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as sluggish and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year.
As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are ‘supplied and ready,’ and he disputed the official conclusion that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad.
‘This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,’ Trump wrote.
‘If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!’
Schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia, airlines canceled more than 1,500 flights, and coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely emptied out.
Around midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City. Some of the few people still left in Nags Head on the Outer Banks took photos of angry waves topped with white froth.
Wilmington resident Julie Terrell was plenty concerned after walking to breakfast past a row of shops fortified with boards, sandbags and hurricane shutters.
‘On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m probably a 7’ in terms of worry, she said. ‘Because it’s Mother Nature. You can’t predict.’
Forecasters’ European climate model is predicting 2 trillion to 11 trillion gallons of rain will fall on North Carolina over the next week, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com. That’s enough water to fill the Empire State Building nearly 40,000 times.
More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
Among those to shrug off evacuation orders in South Carolina was legendary singer Jimmy Buffet, who led a score of adrenaline-junkies waiting for the storm to hit as he headed to Folly Beach to surf the surges.
Posing with a surfboard and a thumbs-up the 71-year-old musician quoted his own lyrics writing: ‘I ain’t afraid of dying, I got no need to explain, I feel like going surfing in a hurricane.’
As Hurricane Florence barreled towards the East Coast musician Jimmy Buffett and other surfers headed to the water, the musician gave a thumbs up with his surfboard at Folly Beach in South Carolina on Wednesday
A work truck drives on Hwy 24 as the wind from Hurricane Florence blows palm trees in Swansboro, North Carolina Thursday
Waves crash around the Oceana Pier in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina as the outer edges of Hurricane Florence being to affect the coast on Thursday
Huge waves lashed the beaches of North Carolina as the hurricane rolling in bringing heavy rain
Homeless after losing her job at Walmart three months ago, 25-year-old Brittany Jones went to a storm shelter at a high school near Raleigh. She said a hurricane has a way of bringing everyone to the same level.
‘It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how many generators you have if you can’t get gas,’ she said. ‘Whether you have a house or not, when the storm comes it will bring everyone together. A storm can come and wipe your house out overnight.’
Duke Energy Co. said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its four million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm’s aftermath, it said.
Scientists said it is too soon to say what role, if any, global warming played in the storm. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster because of human-caused climate change.
Florence’s weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who worried that the storm could still be deadly.
People are seen inside a shelter run by Red Cross before Hurricane Florence comes ashore in Grantsboro, North Carolina
Hurricane Florence evacuees try to sleep in a Red Cross shelter in Grantsboro, North Carolina on Thursday
Local resident Alexia Hunter and her two children David and Saniyah watch the rising storm surge in Wilmington
Earlier on Thursday people were out strolling along the river walk today in Wilmington, North Carolina
Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that was later downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a Wilmington hotel several miles inland.
‘Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated,’ said Fisher, 74. ‘I’ve got four cats inside the house. If I can’t get back in a week, after a while they might turn on each other or trash the place.’
Authorities pushed back against any suggestion the storm’s threat was exaggerated.
The police chief of a barrier island in Florence’s bulls’-eye said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave.
‘I’m not going to put our personnel in harm’s way, especially for people that we’ve already told to evacuate,’ Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said.
But not everyone was taking Florence too seriously – about two dozen locals gathered on Thursday night behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington.
‘We’ll operate without power; we have candles. And you don’t need power to sling booze,’ said owner Eli Ellsworth.
Others were at home hoping for the best.
‘This is our only home. We have two boats and all our worldly possessions,’ said Susan Patchkofsky, who refused her family’s pleas to evacuate and stayed at Emerald Isle with her husband.
‘We have a safe basement and generator that comes on automatically. We chose to hunker down.’
What Hurricane Florence storm surges could look like
A simulation weather video is showing what the life-threatening Hurricane Florence storm surge might look like if it reaches a frightening nine feet.
Life-threatening storm surges of up to 13 feet have been forecast in some areas in North and South Carolina.
Dr Greg Postel, the network’s hurricane specialist, said three feet of water was enough to knock people off their feet, potentially carry cars away and flood lower levels of buildings.
Six feet of storm surge could carry large objects like cars underwater and leave lower levels structures submerged in water, according to Dr Postel.
The video also gives a frightening indication of what nine feet of water looks like – completely submerging lower buildings.