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At least 4 deaths linked to ‘powerful, slow and relentless’ storm pummeling North Carolina

Hurricane Florence left its mark in New Bern, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 14, leaving hundreds stranded and waiting to be rescued. (Video: Zoeann Murphy, Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Follow Saturday’s updates hereAt least five dead, nearly 1 million without power as Florence swamps Carolinas

Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina on Friday, battering the state with a powerful combination of wind and rain. At least four deaths have been linked to the storm, according to officials. Some areas are grappling with intense flooding, while many in the city of New Bern required rescue in the early hours of the day.

The dangerous storm, which was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday afternoon, is expected to keep lashing parts of North and South Carolina into the weekend. Follow Florence’s projected path here and read the latest forecasts here.

Key updates: Four deaths reported | Storm makes landfall | Major flooding and rescues in New Bern | What’s next for Florence

5:45 p.m.: Power outages top 686,000 in North Carolina

North Carolina officials said Friday afternoon that the number of power outages had topped 686,000, a number that has steadily climbed throughout the day as the state was lashed by wind and rain.

State officials also warned people to expect the number of flooded roadways to go up as well, urging them not to try to get through water or around barricades. Since midnight, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol has responded to 80 collisions and twice that many calls for service, authorities said.

— Mark Berman

N.C. governor Roy Cooper provided an update on Hurricane Florence response on Sept. 14, and urged individuals to not return to evacuated areas. (Video: Reuters)

5:06 p.m.: Florence downgraded to a tropical storm; water still poses grave threat

The National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin that Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm, with maximum sustained wind speeds having decreased to near 70 mph. Florence’s winds are expected to keep gradually weakening tonight and then significantly over the weekend.

The storm still poses an extreme risk to people in the Carolinas with warnings of “life-threatening storm surges” and “catastrophic” flooding in both states, the hurricane center said. Forecasts call for up to 40 inches of rain in some areas, with more than 16 inches of rainfall already reported in some parts of North Carolina.

— Mark Berman

Cajun Navy races to the Carolinas; citizen rescuers pull people from rising waters

4:55 p.m.: Volunteers head out to help

LUMBERTON, N.C. — The call went out through Facebook at a little past noon: Volunteers needed immediately to fill sandbags and dam up a railway channel where flood waters have emerged before.

“Pretty soon I had a hundred of my closest friends out here helping us out,” said State Sen. Danny Britt (R), who organized the sand-bag marathon at the West Lumberton Baptist Church. “Sixty miles per hour winds, shingles flying off their own homes, and they’re here working for everyone else.”

The volunteers joined 40 members of the National Guard Friday on a patch of scrubland that sits at the corner of the bending Lumber River, which last flooded nearly two years ago when Hurricane Matthew swept through here.

The river water spilled the banks on two sides then, running beneath an I-95 overpass and slamming into low-lying neighborhoods that have yet to recover. Across the street from the large brick church is a neighborhood where many of the houses remain condemned from past flooding.

More than 700 families were displacedby Hurricane Matthew here in Lumberton. Pastor Rick Foreman has run the West Lumberton Baptist Church for four years, and his tenure has spanned a very difficult time for the parish, given the weather it has faced.

Of the church’s place between two flooding stretches of the Lumber River, Foreman said, “We kind of have a double whammy on us.”

Sandbags blocked the church doors, as the swelling crew of volunteers worked behind it. “We’re in God’s hands,” he said. “We all know that.”

— Scott Wilson

4:02 p.m.: “That rain and that flooding equals danger”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) stressed to residents there that Florence is “different” from previous storms, mostly because it will stick around.

“This is something that we have not seen before,” he said Friday. “This much rain, a hurricane staying staying on top of us for this long … we’re going to have to have patience, we’re going to have to be careful for a long time, and then we’re going to have to deal with a lot of water after the winds leave.”

McMaster discussed the risks posed by all of that water being dumped on the area, which he said could lead to impassable bridges, blocked roads and even mudslides.

“That rain and that flooding equals danger,” he said. “Be careful, be smart.”

— Mark Berman

As Florence arrives, FEMA and its administrator face mounting scrutiny

3:20 p.m.: Four deaths in North Carolina tied to storm, officials say 

Officials in North Carolina have now linked at least four deaths to the storm, including a mother and an infant killed when a tree toppled on their home.

The mother and infant were killed in Wilmington, N.C., when the tree fell over, police said. The tree also injured a third person — the father — who was taken to the hospital, according to authorities.

In Pender County, officials said that a woman died Friday morning when she was having a heart attack and emergency crews were unable to reach her in time due to downed trees and debris in the road.

The crews attempting to reach her tried to move the debris with a front loader, but a tree went through the windshield of the equipment, causing further delays, the officials said.

“This happened this morning at the height of our storm,” said Tammy Proctor, a spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview. “High winds, we have tree debris … when our EMS people can’t get to something, it bothers them.”

A fourth person died in Lenoir County when they were plugging in a generator, according to the office of Gov. Roy Cooper (D), which did not provide additional information.

“Our hearts go out to the families of those who died in this storm,” Cooper said in a statement. “Hurricane Florence is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days. Be extremely careful and stay alert.”

— Mark Berman

2:55 p.m.: First deaths reported in North Carolina

Police in Wilmington, N.C., on Friday afternoon said that a woman and an infant were killed in that city when a tree fell on their home. The police department also said in a statement online that a third person — the father — was injured and taken to a hospital.

— Mark Berman

2:12 p.m.: Storm is “like a bubble with no wind” 

MIAMI — Water is “piling up” as Hurricane Florence pummels North Carolina, and flood-inducing rainfall is expected from South Carolina to Virginia, officials said.

“These slow and large systems are definitely our nemesis,” Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said. “It’s the rainfall. The slow movement has been the story the entire time.”

Graham said Florence, moving at 6 mph, is still predicted to bring 20 to 30 inches of rain to parts of North and South Carolina, and as much as 10 inches far inland, including parts of Virginia. Graham said that 25 percent of deaths in tropical storms comes from inland flooding, and that flooding has barely started away from the coast.

The high rains may reach as far west as Kentucky, Graham said Friday afternoon.

“It won’t be until Sunday until we kick Florence out,” Graham said. “And then even after it’s gone, back behind it in its wake there’s going to be dangerous flooding.”

Graham said of Florence: “There’s nothing to steer it. It’s all about the steering currents, we don’t have any right now. It’s like a bubble with no wind, it just floats. You don’t want slow, but that’s what we have.”

— Lori Rozsa

1:58 p.m.: Inside a South Carolina shelter 

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Todd Dunn was sitting quietly on a cot next to his wheelchair in a crowded hallway that has been dubbed the “medical ward” at Conway High School, just outside of Myrtle Beach. He had been brought in by ambulance three days earlier.

Dunn, 44, couldn’t walk because of neuropathy in his legs caused by Type 2 diabetes. He’s also completely blind – and he lives alone. Days before Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday morning along the North Carolina coast, Dunn realized he didn’t want to be alone.

“I didn’t want to take the chance,” he said.

Two years ago, when Hurricane Matthew hit the area, he took the risk. He stayed in his studio apartment in Myrtle Beach. He had neighbors who promised to check on him, but no family he could rely on. After the storm hit, he lost power for three days and food he had stored in his refrigerator had gone bad.

This time, he is among about 460 who have gone to Conway High School to seek shelter. Ages of those inside range from a days-old infant to a 100-year-old woman, said Amy Eathington, a retired nurse and Red Cross volunteer.

“It’s very similar to working in an emergency room,” Eathington said.

Those with more serious ailments were given cots to sleep on. Others had brought their own beds. Avair Vereen was among the evacuees who have been displaced for days and are just ready to go back home.

“But we’re not going home until this is over,” Vereen said.

— Kristine Phillips

1:39 p.m.: What Hurricane Florence looked and sounded like as it made landfall

For those who stayed when Florence arrived, they watched and recorded as the storm hit North Carolina. Here is a visual story showing what they saw – and heard – when Florence arrived.

1:05 p.m.: N.C. governor: Storm is “powerful, slow and relentless” 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) on Friday said the state was facing “an extremely dangerous situation, and it’s getting worse” as the hurricane continued its assault.

“Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless,” Cooper said at a briefing. “It’s an uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave.”

Cooper highlighted in particular the plight of New Bern, a city that faced intense flooding overnight.

“The storm surge alone has overwhelmed the city of New Bern,” Cooper said. More 100 swift-water rescues were carried out there overnight, he said, “and we expect more.”

Other cities and counties were also facing intense rains and wind, which Cooper said would create challenges “over the next few days and weeks.” Among other things, Cooper said authorities expect to see significant flooding in multiple rivers across the state.

The storm has already had an impact on scores of residents, Cooper said. Half a million people lacked power Friday. About 20,000 people sought sanctuary in 157 shelters.

Cooper also cautioned that it would take time to know the storm’s ultimate impact, though he said it would likely touch every corner of the state.

“You’re going to have a hard time finding a North Carolinian who is not going to be affected by this storm in some way,” Cooper said. “We don’t know the magnitude yet of this storm, because it has just come ashore and it’s going to be here a long time, and it’s going to cut a wide swath across our state.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Wilmington, N.C., experienced wind gusts of 105 miles per hour, the highest recored since 1958. (Video: Reuters)

— Mark Berman

12:23 p.m.: Florence so far: Up to 18 inches of rain 

Florence is slowly weakening as it hugs the coast of southeastern North Carolina, its top winds down to 80 mph. But it has already dumped up 10 to 18 inches of rain from the Outer Banks to the southeast coast. Wrightsville Beach, where the storm made landfall at 7:15 a.m., has posted the highest total so far: 18.53 inches.

While winds are slowly waning, peak gusts earlier Friday topped 80 mph in numerous locations, with a pair of 105 mph gusts in Wilmington and Fort Macon, near Atlantic Beach.

Jason Samenow

Track Hurricane Florence’s deluge in real time

12:14 p.m.: The Outer Banks might narrowly avoid Florence. What about next time?

Sarah Kaplan reports from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where crews rushed this week to prepare the area for the storm out of fears that buildings could be destroyed and beaches could vanish:

One of these hurricanes, many worry, will expose the Outer Banks for what they have always been: “Basically just a sand bar,” in the words of John Trubich, who lives in the northern town of Kitty Hawk.
Trubich contemplated that not-so-distant future at the Food Lion as he picked up supplies to get him through the next few days. “Mother Nature made the Outer Banks just by pushing sand around. It’ll eventually be washed away,” Trubich said. “Hopefully not in my lifetime.”

Head here for more.

12:02 p.m.: More than half a million power outages in North Carolina

As Hurricane Florence continues battering North Carolina, it keeps knocking out power across the state. More than 500,000 power outages were reported across the state by late morning, officials said. About a third of these outages were concentrated in three areas around Wilmington, Morehead City and Raleigh, according to Duke Energy’s outage maps.

— Mark Berman

11:31 a.m.: Virginia governor lifts mandatory evacuation orders

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Friday morning lifted mandatory evacuation orders in coastal Virginia. In a statement, his office said the orders were lifted at 10:45 a.m. after the National Hurricane Center lifted the tropical storm warning for that part of the state.

“The imminent threat of coastal flooding and high winds have passed for our coastal communities as Hurricane Florence has made landfall in the Carolinas and we believe it is safe for Virginians to begin returning home,” Northam said in a statement. “We are shifting our focus to the expected inland flooding and damage to Southwest Virginia as Florence turns north this weekend.”

— Mark Berman

11:18 a.m.: A look at flooding in New Bern, N.C.

10:10 a.m.: Water rescue teams prepare for a busy day

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — On Friday morning, the Onslow County swiftboat EMS crew stationed in a government building in Jacksonville received an update from the county’s chief of fire rescue that hurricane-force winds would carry on until 1 p.m. By that point, another two feet of rain will have fallen.

“We’re going to get busy around 1 o’clock, so rest up because we’re probably going to be busy,” Jaime Lozano, the swiftboat team captain, told the crew.

Shortly after, Lozano got a request to help set up a shelter at a nearby high school. As the team assembled its emergency gear and prepared to venture into the storm, it stood by for specific calls to pick up people stranded in their homes in need of evacuation.

It was unclear just how many people needed to be brought to safety. “I imagine if they’re opening up a shelter, it’ll be a lot of trips,” Lozano said.

–Rachel Siegel

9:49 a.m.: “This is only the beginning”

Hours after Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina, federal officials stressed that the danger posed by the storm was far from over.

“This is only the beginning,” said Chris Wamsley of the National Weather Service. “We’ve already seen a foot of rain just north of Wilmington area. We’re still expecting rainfall amounts of 20 to 30 inches, some isolated spots of 40 inches.”

Jeff Byard, FEMA associate administrator, echoed this and warned people to expect the slow-moving storm to keep pummeling the Carolinas.

“This is not the end of it,” he said at a briefing Friday morning. “Twenty-four to 36 hours remain of a significant threat from heavy rain, heavy surge, not just in North Carolina but obviously down as we move in to South Carolina.”

Byard urged people who had not heeded evacuation orders to remain in place and try to stay safe. He said federal officials had teams embedded on the state level and described a partnership of multiple government agencies and private businesses prepared and ready to respond.

“We have what we need,” he said. “We have what we need staged throughout the area, both as far as manpower and teams as well as commodities, resources, communications.”

Authorities continued to urge patience and remind people that damage was inevitable as Florence continued its punishing onslaught.

“We have to set those expectations,” Byard said. “This is going to be a duration. Power will be off, infrastructure will be damaged or destroyed, homes will be damaged or destroyed.”

— Mark Berman

More than 60 years ago, another dangerous hurricane devastated the Carolinas

9 a.m.: Wilmington sees strongest wind gusts in half a century

The storm may have weakened to a Category 1, but it still packs quite a powerful punch. Wilmington, a city in southeastern North Carolina, was hit with wind gusts of 105 mph on Friday morning, the strongest in a half-century, according to the National Weather Service.

The wind gusts were the most powerful since Hurricane Helen crashed into Wilmington on Sept. 27, 1958, the Weather Service said.

— Mark Berman

8:46 a.m.: More than 100 rescued in New Bern, governor says

The city of New Bern, N.C., was hit hard by Hurricane Florence overnight, with city officials saying shortly before 2:30 a.m. that about 150 people there were awaiting rescue.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Friday morning that more than 100 people in New Bern have been rescued, “but there’s still more to go,” he said.

“We’re glad to see the sunlight here,” Cooper said in an interview on “Fox and Friends.” He noted that there was still significant work ahead for the state, saying it was “time to move from preparation to determination” as residents and officials alike respond to the storm.

State transportation officials told residents that major roads in the New Bern area were closed and that secondary roads had not been examined due to the conditions, but they said that due to the flooding, “assume roads are impassable.”

— Mark Berman

8:25 a.m.: Florence made landfall. Now what?

Hurricane Florence is battering North Carolina this morning, but the storm has only just begun for the region, reports the Capital Weather Gang:

Beyond Friday’s torrential rain, multi-foot storm surge and widespread power outages, Florence will continue to batter the region through early next week. The storm’s winds are weakening, but some of its most devastating effects may be yet to come.
Through the weekend, the massive storm — containing a zone of tropical-storm-force winds nearly 400 miles wide — will drift inland, engulfing much of South Carolina and southern North Carolina. The National Weather Service says nearly 5 million people could witness at least 10 inches of rain as the slow-moving storm makes slow forward progress.

Head here for more.

8:20 a.m.: Watch Florence make landfall

8 a.m.: More than 400,000 without power in North Carolina

North Carolina state officials reported Friday morning that more than 400,000 customers were facing power outages this morning, a number that is likely to increase as the storm’s winds continue to tear at trees and power lines. Outage maps provided by Duke Energy showed that more than a quarter of them were concentrated in two areas on the state’s coast: one around the Wilmington region, the other around Morehead City.

— Mark Berman

7:39 a.m.: Florence makes landfall in North Carolina

Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., at 7:15 a.m. on Friday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm hit with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph.

In a bulletin Friday morning, the hurricane center reported that the “center of the eye of Hurricane Florence finally makes landfall,” following the storm’s slow, grinding approach to the Southeastern coast.

— Mark Berman

6 a.m.: Florence eyewall is onshore. Center of storm due shortly for landfall near Wilmington, as hundreds of thousands lose power. 

The National Weather Service reports that slow-moving Hurricane Florence is moving onto shore and headed toward Wilmington, N.C. The eyewall of Florence is already onshore, according to the National Hurricane Center, and the storm’s center is currently about 10 miles east of Wilmington and about 80 miles north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Gusts of up to 70 miles per hour have been recorded nearby in Topsail Beach, N.C.

Meanwhile, as many as 321,692 households in North Carolina currently lack power, the state’s emergency management department says.

The already high water levels are expected to rise even higher as the tide comes in, and flash flood warnings continue for Wilmington, Washington, Riverbend, and Vanceboro, N.C.

A gas station canopy fell over due to Hurricane Florence's high winds in North Topsail Beach, N.C. on Sept. 13. (Video: The Washington Post)

5 a.m.: Dire warning issued as Florence nears landfall

With Hurricane Florence about to make landfall, the National Hurricane Center predicted only a gradual decrease in the storm’s intensity during the day ahead.

“It cannot be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard associated with slow-moving Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland through the weekend,” the latest update warned.

As of 5 a.m., the hurricane was turning westward and traveling at a speed of roughly 6 miles per hour. Over the next two to three days, it should gradually turn toward the northwest.

Antonia Farzan

4:45 a.m.:  People stranded on roofs and trapped in cars as eyewall nears coast

After slapping the coast overnight with powerful wind and dumping inches of rain, the outer bands of Hurricane Florence continued to push inland. At 4:00 a.m., the National Weather Service released an update on the storm, noting Florence’s eyewall was beginning to reach the coast.

“The water levels in Pamlico Sound and Emerald Isle remain elevated,” the update noted. “These waters are expected to rise as the tides come back in. A USGA gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently recorded 6.6 feet of inundation.”

On the ground, the situation remains serious as floodwaters continued to swallow up residential areas.

The Craven County emergency operations center has received over 100 calls from people who have been trapped in cars or who have water coming into their homes, spokeswoman Amber Parker said. Some area residents are currently trapped on roofs waiting for swift rescue teams to arrive as the area continues to experience extreme flooding, storm surge, and high winds. With a curfew in place until 8 a.m. and many roads in the area closed, people who are experiencing flooding in their homes have little other choice but to wait for help to arrive.

New Bern is the largest city in Craven County and has been experiencing serious flooding, but many of the calls have also been coming in from unincorporated areas of the county, she said. Rescue operations are currently underway.

Parker noted that county officials had offered free transportation to emergency shelters located in Sanford, further inland, and that 107 people had taken the opportunity to get away from the coast. Another 839 people had arrived at shelters located in Craven County by 1 a.m., she said.

The emergency operations center in New Bern where Parker is based experienced some flooding earlier in the night, but only in the lobby area, she said. Emergency operations staff were unaffected, but are expecting to see plenty of damage when the sun comes up.

“Everyone’s certainly hoping for the best, but we do have a more flooding and storm surge ahead of us,” Parker said.

As of 4:19 a.m., National Weather Service stations in Fort Macon and near the New River inlet had both recorded gusts topping 100 mph. ABC reports that over 194,000 people are currently without power.

— Kyle Swenson and Antonia Farzan

3 a.m.: Wind gusts of 99 mph 

At 3:00 a.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center released an update on Hurricane Florence showing increased winds battering the North Carolina coast.

According to the latest release, a station at Fort Macon, N.C., recently documented a sustained wind of 73 mph and a wind gust of 99 mph. A station at Cape Lookout, N.C., registered a sustained wind of 75 mph while also notching a gust at 90 mph.

— Kyle Swenson 

3 a.m.: Storm bears down on North Carolina’s second-oldest city  

As wind and water continued to pound the North Carolina coast Friday morning, one of the region’s most historically significant towns took a direct blow from Hurricane Florence.

New Bern, the state’s second-oldest city, sits where the Trent River pours into the Neuse River. That location made the town an important early settlement throughout the colonial period — but also today leaves it open to dangerous weather. Early Friday the city announced emergency crews were already embarking on high water rescues as 150 residents awaited help. As of 2:00 am, a USGS substation located in New Bern measured a water level of nearly 10 feet — double the readings at any surrounding location. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for a swath of coastal North Carolina — including New Bern — until 8:30 am.

The swelling water threatens a significant chunk of local history. According to the city’s website, New Bern has more than 150 sites and 36 individual listings included on the National Registry of Historic Places, including grand houses, churches, and cemeteries.

The first Europeans to bed down in the area were Swiss and Germans led by Baron Christopher de Graffenried in 1710. The baron named the new settled after his home city back in Switzerland. Under British rule, New Bern was made the colony’s capital in 1770.

The city was also an important chess piece during the Civil War, falling into Union occupation following a battle in 1862. Two years later, the city was the scene of a horrific yellow fever epidemic, according to a history published by the University of North Carolina.

New Bern greatest impact on the global scene was arguably as the birthplace of Pepsi. According to the university’s history, in 1898, a pharmacist named Caleb Bradham created the concoction — known as “Bred’s Drink” — to help stomach digestion. Financial duress forced Bradham to sell off the recipe in 1920.

Now it’s popular and picturesque southern town that draws thousands of tourists.

— Kyle Swenson 

2:30 a.m.: Intense flooding continues in New Bern as 150 people await rescue.

At 2 a.m., Hurricane Florence was located 35 miles east of Wilmington, N.C., with sustained winds reaching up to 90 miles per hour. As the hurricane continued to slowly make its way over the North Carolina coast, it appeared that the town of New Bern was getting the worst of the flooding.

New Bern city officials announced on Twitter that roughly 150 people are currently awaiting rescue. Two out-of-state FEMA teams are currently assisting with the process and others are on the way to help with the emergency response, the statement said.

A gauge in the Trent River near U.S. Highway 70 in New Bern recorded 9.78 feet of inundation, the highest in the region. At Bogue Sound near North Carolina Highway 58 in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, more than 9 inches of rain had fallen in the past 6 hours, and water levels had risen by over 5 feet.

On MSNBC, New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw said that as many as 14,000 people in the town currently lack power. There have been “quite a few” water rescues, he said.

Across North Carolina, 185,312 people are currently without power, the state’s department of emergency management said. Carteret, Onslow and Craven counties, which are located on the southeastern coast, have reported the most outages.

In Onslow Bay, waves over 18 feet high were recorded by the National Data Buoy Center.

Earlier in the evening, meteorologists and reporters at NewsChannel 12 in New Bern, North Carolina were evacuated from the station due to rising waters. “When the conditions in the area intensified suddenly, we made the call to have our news staff evacuate the area and team up with our sister station WPDE in Myrtle Beach to continue covering the storm and providing our viewers with vital, potentially life-saving, information,” General Manager Matt Bowman said in a statement.

WRAL reporter Adam Owens captured floodwater pouring into the Craven County Emergency Services Building in New Bern, where operations staff and first responders are based during the storm. The emergency operations officials were still operating as normal, he wrote.

‪Flood water is getting into the Craven County Emergency Services Building in New Bern. Despite that, emergency officials are still able to operate inside. #WRAL #Florence #ncwx‬

Posted by WRAL Adam Owens on Thursday, September 13, 2018

— Antonia Farzan

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