Hurricane Florence has crashed into the Carolina coast, knocking over trees, dumping nearly a metre of rain on some spots and leading to the death of five people before it was downgraded to a tropical storm still capable of wreaking havoc.
The storm’s first casualties included a mother and her baby, who died when a tree fell on their brick house in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The child’s father was injured and taken to a hospital.
In Pender County, North Carolina, a woman suffered a fatal heart attack as paramedics trying to reach her were blocked by debris.
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.
“To those in the storm’s path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference in Raleigh, adding that Florence would “continue its violent grind across the state for days”.
Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane with 193km/h winds on Thursday, but dropped to Category 1 before coming ashore.
After landfall, Florence slowed to a pace that would see the system likely lingering for days.
Life-threatening six-metre storm surges
The National Hurricane Centre downgraded it to a tropical storm but said life-threatening storm surges and catastrophic freshwater flooding were expected over portions of North and South Carolina.
The storm surge, water pushed by a storm over land that would normally be dry, “overwhelmed” the town of New Bern at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, Governor Cooper said.
Parts of North and South Carolina were forecast to get as much as one metre.
More than 60 people, including many children, were evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds caused parts of the roof to collapse.
Many of the evacuees had pets with them.
Maysie Baumgardner, 7, sheltered with her family at the Hotel Ballast in downtown Wilmington as Florence’s floodwaters filled the streets. “I’m a little bit scared right now,” she said, “but I have my iPad and I’m watching Netflix.”
Thank you for your support for the people of North Carolina — and thanks to all the volunteers out there helping out. https://t.co/m9IBBAgYpn
— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) September 14, 2018
Governor Cooper said Florence was expected to cover almost all of North Carolina in several feet of water.
As of Friday morning, Atlantic Beach, a town on the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands, had received 760mm of rain, the US Geological Service said.
By early Friday afternoon up to 500mm of rain fell in the town of Oriental.
The centre of the hurricane’s eye came ashore at about 7.15 am local time near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, with sustained winds of 150 km/h, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
By late afternoon, the centre of the storm was about 40km northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 110 km/h.
Florence was one of two major storms threatening millions of people on opposite sides of the world.
Super Typhoon Mangkhut was expected to hit an area in the Philippines on Saturday that would affect 5.2 million people.