WILMINGTON, N.C. — Hurricane Florence was making landfall in
North Carolina early Friday with a life-threatening storm surge
that pushed water inland for miles, pelting rains and screaming
winds that destroyed buildings in its path.
More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel at
the height of the storm, and many more who defied evacuation
orders were hoping to be rescued. Pieces of buildings ripped
apart by the storm flew through the air.
The powerful storm inundated coastal streets with ocean water
and left tens of thousands without power. Forecasters said
“catastrophic” freshwater flooding was expected along waterways
far from the coast of the Carolinas.
At 7 a.m., Florence was centred just 5 miles (10 kilometres)
east of Wilmington, North Carolina. Its forward movement was 6
mph (9 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended 90 miles (150
kilometres) from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up
to 195 miles (315 kilometres).
Winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways
as Florence moved in for an extended stay, with enough of its
killer winds swirling overseas to maintain its power.
Forecasters said the onslaught could last for days, leaving a
wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising
The wind howled and sheets of rain splattered against windows
of a hotel before dawn in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of
Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the
“(It’s) very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing
sideways, debris flying,” said Orsa, who lives nearby and fears
splintering trees will pummel her house.
The storm’s intensity held at about 90 mph (144 kph), and it
appeared that the north side of the eye was the most dangerous
place to be as Florence moved ashore.
A weather station at a community college recorded a 100 mph
wind gust, and forecasters tweeted that a 91 mph wind gust
slammed into Wilmington’s airport, surpassing the power of
Hurricane Fran two decades ago.
The National Hurricane Center said a gauge in Emerald Isle,
North Carolina, reported 6.3 feet (1.92 metres) of inundation.
Emerald Isle is about 84 miles 135 kilometres) north of
And about 46 miles farther up the waterfront, in New Bern,
about 150 people were waiting to be rescued from floods on the
Neuse River, WXII-TV reported. The city said two FEMA teams
were working on swift-water rescues and more were on the way.
“Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork,
common sense and patience.” Gov. Roy Cooper warned, describing
day after day of disastrous weather to come.
Cooper also requested additional federal disaster assistance in
anticipation of what his office called “historic major damage”
across the state.
More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm
began buffeting the coast, and more than 12,000 were in
shelters. Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia,
where forecasts were less dire.
Prisoners were affected, too. North Carolina corrections
officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult
prisons and juvenile centres in the path of Florence, and more
than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities.
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.
Spanish moss waved in the trees as the winds picked up in
Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead
City. Ocean water flowed between homes and on to streets on the
Outer Banks; waves crashed against wooden fishing piers.
Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools
and businesses closed as far south as Georgia.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves nearly 30
feet (9 metres) high as Florence churned toward shore.
Forecasters said conditions will continue to 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 (3.4 metres) of ocean water, and days of downpours
could unload more than 3 feet (0.9 metres) 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.
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.
The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as
slow and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last
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
Not everyone was taking Florence too seriously: About two dozen
locals gathered 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.”
Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington;
Jeffrey Collins in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Jennifer Kay
in Miami; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Sarah
Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Meg Kinnard in
Columbia, South Carolina; Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North
Carolina; Jeff Martin in Hampton, Georgia; David Koenig in
Dallas; Gerry Broome at Nags Head, North Carolina; and Jay
Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.