Hurricane Florence has begun battering the North Carolina coast with heavy rain, high winds and the first signs of a storm surge.
Storm surge waters were seen damaging beachfront homes north of Wilmington, North Carolina in Topsail Beach on Thursday evening.
Authorities fear that Florence’s fury could push the surge up to 11 feet. Late Thursday, the storm was downgraded to Category 1 from Category 2 – though the deadly threat from wind and storm surges remained.
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.
On Thursday night, the Neuse River burst its banks, causing rapid flooding in New Bern and forcing residents to flee.
In North Carolina, 156,068 have lost power, officials said. The top counties affected were Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender. Officials fear power losses could affect up to three million people.
The storm surge was expected to reach far inland along North Carolina’s flat coastal plain.
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
The storm surge was well underway on Topsail Beach on Thursday evening. Storm surges could reach 11 feet in some areas
The storm surge rips a garage door off of its hinges as items inside are pushed by the flooding waters on Thursday
Forecasters warn that storm surges will occur far inland. This map shows storm surge forecasts by potential severity
‘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
In a flash bulletin at 8pm on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said that Florence was about 85 miles southeast of Wilmington, and 145 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, heading northwest at a speed of five 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.
Forecasters said conditions will only get more lethal as the storm smashes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and crawls 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.
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
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper 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.’
More than 12,000 were in shelters in North Carolina. 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.
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.
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 110 mph winds on Thursday after it was downgraded to a Category 2
- 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.
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 4 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.
Terrifying simulation video shows what Hurricane Florence storm surge will look like if
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 when the monster storm eventually makes landfall 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.