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Death toll rises to at least 11, officials say, as some areas grapple with intense flooding due to Carolinas storm

As Florence swept into eastern North Carolina, the Onslow County Swiftwater Rescue Team hardly had a chance to rest. (Video: Alice Li, Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Follow Sunday’s updates here: Several deaths reported as storm slogs across Carolinas

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

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

11:30 p.m.: Water rescues continue as officials warn of tornado risk overnight

Hundreds of water rescues were taking place Saturday night because of flooding from Florence, the North Carolina Emergency Management said, urging people to say home.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for parts of the state overnight.

8:18 p.m.: Officials say at least 11 dead as a result of Florence

Tropical Storm Florence, which made landfall as a hurricane on Friday, was being blamed for at least 11 deaths as of Saturday night as its torrential rains continued to soak North Carolina and South Carolina during a slow march westward.

On Saturday evening, the North Carolina Office of the Medical Examiner issued a news release saying that it had confirmed seven storm-related deaths, including a 41-year-old woman and her seven-month-old son who died in Wilmington on Friday when a tree fell on their home. The state also listed the deaths of a 78-year-old man in Lenoir County, who died when he was electrocuted; a 77-year-old man in Lenoir County who fell and died due to a cardiac problem while outside checking on dogs during the storm; an 81-year-old man in Wayne County who fell and struck his head while packing to evacuate; and a husband and wife who died in a house fire in Cumberland County.

Local officials have confirmed three additional deaths in North Carolina connected to the storm. The Duplin County Sheriff’s Office said two people died when flash flooding overwhelmed roads on Saturday; 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.

In South Carolina, a 61-year-old woman was killed late Friday when the vehicle she was driving struck a tree, according to Gov. Henry McMaster (R), who announced the death at a news conference Saturday afternoon.

— Emily Wax-Thibodeaux

8:15 p.m.: Celebrity chef José Andrés feeds people after Florence

José Andrés has established two kitchens in North Carolina, part of his World Central Kitchen operation, to help feed thousands in the wake of Florence. (Video: Whitney Leaming, Whitney Shefte, Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

5:29 p.m.: ‘She loved this river. She lived on this river for a long time.’

Waccamaw Drive runs parallel to a swelling river with the same name. Nearly all of the houses that line this long, winding road in Conway, S.C., stand several feet above the ground; most are built with high staircases leading to the front door.

But at least one house, with hardwood floors and a living room that overlooks the Waccamaw River, wasn’t built that way. Inside, Lisa Skipper was packing valuables in trash bags that she and her husband, Ricky, were about to load into a U-Haul van parked outside. Everything else they couldn’t bring – pots, pans, table lamps, pantry items, bottles of alcohol and others – was arranged on the kitchen counter, where floodwaters are less likely to reach them.

The Waccamaw is expected to rise significantly over the next few days, as Tropical Storm Florence continues to dump rain over the Carolinas. Residents here also expect that rain falling on the southern half of North Carolina will stream to the south through the 140-mile-long river, which flows through both states.

The National Weather Service forecasts that the river will rise to a little over 19 feet by Wednesday, about a foot higher than the record set by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. That year, a foot and a half of water flowed into the Skippers’ home.

The house, built in the early 1960s, belongs to Ricky Skipper’s father, Earl, who evacuated earlier this week. His son and daughter-in-law, who live in a raised house down the street, stopped by to prepare his home for what they believe would be worse flooding they have seen in years. Sentimental items that belonged to Earl Skipper’s late wife, Frances, have been moved to a storage unit.

Ricky Skipper said they built new floors in his father’s house right before Hurricane Matthew hit – only to replace them afterward. Now, they expect they will have to do the same again. But Earl Skipper loves living in the house because his wife loved it, Lisa Skipper said. He loves living near the river because his wife found delight in fishing it.

“She loved this river,” Lisa said, as she looked out the windows in the nearly empty living room. “She lived on this river for a long time.”

And so, after the waters rise and recede, the Skippers will return to this home by the river, as they always have.

Kristine Phillips

The Post followed Aaron Sutton as he visited his home in Kinston, N.C., on Sept. 16, and saw the damage wrought by Florence for the first time. (Video: Zoeann Murphy, Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

5:11 p.m.: Sesame Street tries to provide emotional shelter for kids affected by storm

For thousands of children who have been affected by Florence or have watched menacing reports of whipping winds and mass flooding, the Weather Channel and Sesame Workshop have joined to help parents comfort their children and offer hope for the “adventure” that unfolds when neighborhoods rebuild.

In a video accessible here, Elmo joined Weather Channel anchor Stephanie Abrams to talk about what hurricanes are — “a very strong storm with lots and lots of rain and wind,” and why they can feel so stressful and scary.

They also demonstrate how to make a disaster kit — with snacks, a juice box and their favorite toy — and whom to turn to for help in an emergency. “The most important thing is to stay safe and to stay together,” Abrams says.

The video is part of Sesame Workshop’s “Sesame Street in Communities” initiative, helping parents speak with their kids about tough topics, such as divorce.

— Emily Wax-Thibodeaux

Residents in Lumberton N.C., find their neighborhoods flooded and their homes hard to reach. (Video: Jorge Ribas, Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)

3:59 p.m.: Transportation official: Out-of-state drivers should avoid North Carolina altogether

The head of the North Carolina Department of Transportation made a startling plea Saturday afternoon, asking travelers from the north and south to avoid the state entirely.

“We are asking those that would be traveling through North Carolina to avoid North Carolina,” Jim Trogdon said. “This is what we need to do today just to make sure that motorists are safe.”

Trogdon suggested that travelers essentially go around the state, detouring through Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia, if necessary. Mainly, he said he wanted to prevent drivers from getting stranded amid rising floodwaters and to keep roads as clear as possible for emergency workers.

He said roads throughout the state were rapidly continuing to flood — the number of closures nearly doubled during the span of a few hours Saturday. Even major arteries such as Interstates 40 and 95 have been affected, and the situation is likely to worsen.

“Road conditions across nearly all of our state will rapidly deteriorating in coming days,” Trogdon said. He noted that in his nearly three decades with the department, “I have never seen flash flooding like this occur in our state.”

Gov. Roy Cooper echoed calls for drivers — whether from North Carolina or elsewhere — to stay off the roads as much as possible.

“All roads in the state are at risk of floods,” Cooper said at an afternoon news conference. “Roads you think may be safe can be washed away in a matter of minutes.”

Brady Dennis

2:55 p.m.: South Carolina reports first fatality linked to Florence

A 61-year-old woman died late Friday after crashing into a tree that had fallen across Highway 18 in South Carolina, becoming the state’s first fatality linked to Florence.

Officials said Amber Dawn Lee, of Union, hit the tree around 9:40 p.m., not long after it was felled by the storm’s winds. The area is in upstate South Carolina, far from the coast.

“Our prayers and hearts go out to her family and loved ones,” Gov. Henry McMaster (R) said at a news conference Saturday afternoon. “We are mighty sorry.”

Capt. Kelley Hughes of the S.C. Highway Patrol said in an interview that residents nearby tried warning drivers about the fallen tree, which was difficult to see in the darkness. He said Lee died at the scene. There were no passengers with her in the car.

Joel Morris, who lives near the scene of the accident, told a local television station, WYFF, that he saw the tree fall and was able to signal one driver to turn around. He told the station that when he saw Lee’s pickup approaching, he stood in the road and flashed his flashlight but was unable to get her to stop.

The pickup slammed into the tree, which Hughes said was suspended about six feet above the road.

The accident brings the death toll from Florence to at least six. Five deaths in North Carolina also have been attributed to the storm.

Brady Dennis

2:10 p.m.: A shelter springs a leak, a Waffle House offers comfort in Wilmington, N.C.

The roof of a shelter housing about 200 people in Wilmington, N.C., sprung a leak Friday during the height of Florence and showered residents and their dogs with rain.

New Hanover County officials said they evacuated about 150 residents to another shelter Saturday morning because it was too dangerous to do so during the height of the storm. About 50 chose to stay because the shelter, at Trask Middle School, accepts pets while other shelters do not. About 600 people are staying in local shelters. 

“We made what I think is the right decision to not relocate people during the peak of the storm,” said Chris Coudriet, the county manager. “There is no structural problem with the building. Is it wet? Yes, but the building itself is structurally sound.”

Rain continues to pour over this region, where officials are warning that 14 more inches, on top of the 10 to 12 inches that have already fallen, are expected in the next 48 hours. The Cape Fear River is expected to crest late Monday or Tuesday, at a historic 25.8 feet.

County and local officials said at a news conference that they are pleased with the state and federal response, but they also pleaded that those agencies get their teams to the Wilmington area as soon as possible, before the flooding worsens.

“We’re just now entering the thick of it,” said New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White. “Overall, we survived this … but we’re still in the middle of it.” 

Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said his community suffered significant damage, “but the structural damage is not as severe as it looks” on social media. Access to the popular beach community is still limited to police, fire, government and repair crews.  Blair said teams are working to get water and sewer facilities open again. 

In Wilmington proper, fallen trees and power lines block many roads, and traffic lights are out virtually everywhere. About 112,000 people, out of 127,000 locally, remain without power, and Duke Energy officials warned Friday that it may be weeks before power is fully restored. 

Residents, wrestling with cabin fever after a full day indoors, began venturing out despite the pleas of officials to keep off the roads. At one of the very few businesses open Saturday, nearly two dozen people lined up outside a Waffle House on Market Street, seeking hot food and a chance to get outside.

“My kids are tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” said April Bellamy, 38.

Patricia Sullivan

1:23 p.m.: “The worst is yet to come.” As rivers rise, a new round of mandatory evacuations.

A drone captures the widespread flooding in New Bern, N.C., after Hurricane Florence rain slowed. (Video: Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

Ahead of what officials fear will be more than 45 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina, at least three local governments want residents to seek safer ground. Cumberland County, the city of Fayetteville and the town of Wade have issued a mandatory evacuation order for all people living within one mile of the banks of the Cape Fear River and the Little River within Cumberland County “to minimize the imminent threat of injury or loss of life.”

“There is the potential for life-threatening flooding, and those who reside in the area face imminent danger from the flood waters that will soon arrive,” Fayetteville city spokesman Nathan Walls said in a statement. “While the storm appears on the surface to be not as intense as expected, this is not the case. The worst is yet to come, as the flood waters from other areas are accumulating north of the county and filling the river basins beyond their capacities.”

Walls said people who fail to heed the evacuation order “do so at their own risk,” as first responders might not be able to reach flooded areas in case of an emergency.

“This one is deadly,” Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin warned Saturday, saying people near the evacuation zones “have to get out or risk being stuck — no one may be able to come and get you for days.”

Police and firefighters are going through the neighborhoods at risk and explaining why folks have to leave, he said.

“We’re trying to make it totally clear that this is deadly,” Colvin said in a phone interview. “At end of day, we can’t force folks to leave, but we are letting them know if they don’t get out they are not going to get help for some time and we can’t put our first responders in that kind of danger.

He said that residents went “through this trauma in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew when the river crested at 52 inches” and that four people died during flash flooding.

“This is an even greater risk,” Colvin said.

The warnings echo those from state leaders earlier Saturday urging residents that the most devastating effects from Florence could unfold in coming days as the threat of flooding grows. The state has asked residents to monitor this site, which shows which rivers are rising and allows people to sign up for flood alerts.

— Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Brady Dennis

12:41 p.m.: At one hotel, hospitality amid the worries: “When you’re under our umbrella, we take care of you.”

As soon as Florence reached Robeson County, about 75 miles inland, on Friday afternoon, essential services began to fall like dominoes. Lights flickered, then went out. The county issued an advisory to boil all water. Most people lost cellphone service — and, with it, their connection to the outside world.

But loss of electricity couldn’t stop Southern hospitality. At 9 a.m. Saturday, staff at the Holiday Inn Express in Pembroke, N.C., went room to room informing guests that breakfast was served. The guests — several of them locals who had been flooded during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and decided not to chance staying in their homes through another storm — wandered downstairs to find a buffet of scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage and grits.

Samantha Locklear, the housekeeper, had brought all the food from home and cooked it on a gas grill.

“When you’re under our umbrella,” said Tiffany Booth, the hotel’s manager, “we take care of you.”

Guests ate at tables illuminated by tea lights, talking quietly about the storm.

Melinda Jacobs had been awake almost the whole night, frightened by the howling wind and pictures posted by friends on Facebook of flooded roads, signs ripped off familiar storefronts and trees limbs on top of crushed cars.

“I thought, ‘I don’t understand how Noah made it through 40 days and 40 nights like this,’” she said.

This summer, she had moved in with relatives who live near the beach in Ocean Isle, one of the communities under mandatory-evacuation orders. Early reports from the coast suggest that her town experienced 70 mph winds and several feet of storm surge, but she doesn’t know how her home fared.

Sunday is Jacobs’s 42nd birthday. She has no idea where she will be or what she will still have.

“It’s nerve-racking,” she said, “not knowing how everybody is, wondering if I got a place to go back to.”

Sarah Kaplan

12:07 p.m.: For one couple and two pets, an escape from rising floodwaters 

Denis Railling and her husband of New Bern, N.C., decided to evacuate their home once they heard the water may be contaminated. (Video: Ashleigh Joplin, Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

Denise and Jerry Railling had stayed in their one-story home in New Bern, N.C., even as the water inside reached their knees.

On Saturday, a rescuer brought Denise out first, seated at the front of a water scooter, cradling her cat, Boo Boo, in a thick tan blanket. Denise was barefoot. She said she had done a lot of praying over the past few days.

“We’ll find some clothes for you, some hot food,” said Ryan Bartholomew, a volunteer rescuer who’d come from Sacramento.

Denise’s husband came next, wearing a pair of baby-blue Crocs.

“We decided to get out when they said there was sewage in the water,” Jerry said.

On dry land, he leaned against his Chevy SUV, which he’d parked on higher ground Wednesday afternoon. Then the rescue team made one last trip into his home, this time to fetch the dog, Snookie, who rode on the water scooter with a bright-red life jacket around her neck.

Jerry said he couldn’t find the words to describe what he saw. Then he chose two: “Extreme chaos.”

“Just look,” he said.

Rachel Siegel

11:35 a.m.: Florence breaks record in North Carolina for most rain in a single storm — 30 inches and counting

More than 30 inches of rain have fallen in North Carolina, according to preliminary reports submitted to the National Weather Service, which would shatter the statewide storm rainfall record of 24.06 inches set during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Flash-flood emergencies — the most critical category of flood warning — have been in effect for several counties since Friday night. Up to 50 inches of rain could fall through Sunday in southeast North Carolina, which is coming into focus as ground zero for Florence’s most devastating effects.

A citizen weather observer posted a total of 30.58 inches of rain in Swansboro, which is in Onslow County. If verified, the amount would be a state record for a tropical storm or hurricane and would shatter the old record of 24 inches — set near Wilmington during Floyd. Many locations in southeast North Carolina are likely to smash this old record by the time the rain ends.

The Capital Weather Gang reports:

Despite its weakened status to a tropical storm, Florence has deluged parts of the North Carolina coastline with torrential and historic amounts of rain. Many areas in southeastern North Carolina have endured 15 to 30 inches of rain and up to 15 more could fall.
The rain is resulting in catastrophic flooding in southeast North Carolina that is spreading into the interior, reaching even into the population centers of Raleigh and Charlotte. Already, the event has broken the state’s record for most rain ever observed in a tropical storm or hurricane, with a preliminary report of over 30 inches.
The floodwaters are expected to push many rivers to all-time-high levels and, toward the mountains of western North Carolina and southwest Virginia, may spur life-threatening landslides.

For more details, click here.

— Brady Dennis and Angela Fritz

11:15 a.m.: N.C. governor: “Know that the water is rising fast.”

Gov. Roy Cooper warned North Carolina residents of the freshwater flooding expected over the next few days, even as Florence heads south. (Video: Reuters)

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) warned Saturday morning that while the most damaging winds of Hurricane Florence have subsided, the most serious threat from the storm remains: water.

“Know that the water is rising fast — everywhere, even in places that don’t usually flood,” Cooper said at a late-morning news conference, adding that Florence is in the process of dropping “epic” amounts of rainfall on the state.

He also said that the worst effects probably lie ahead, as rivers will continue to rise and crest even after the storm has passed. Cooper warned residents across much of the state — from Fayetteville in the east to Asheville in the west — not to grow complacent.

“Many people who think the storms have missed them have yet to see its threat,” he said, adding that officials “expect flooding and potential landslides beginning tonight and continuing into Monday.”

Cooper and the state’s transportation director, James H. Trogdon III, pleaded with residents to stay off roads, warning that conditions would rapidly deteriorate as floodwaters rise. Trogdon said major roads in many counties already are impassable, and he expects a “significant” number of road closures in coming days.

— Brady Dennis

10:37 a.m.: In a quiet beach town, hunting sea shells and waiting for Florence to leave

The streets of Myrtle Beach remained deserted and businesses there remained closed Saturday morning as city and county officials urged people to stay in emergency shelters and off the roads. This popular tourist spot on the South Carolina shore has remained largely unscathed by Florence, unlike parts of North Carolina. The ocean is roiling, but floods have so far spared the streets near the shore.

Joe Gacioch, 30, and his girlfriend, Ashley Gash, 23, who live a few miles inland and decided to stay put despite evacuation orders, drove to the beach to collect sea shells. They parked at the empty boardwalk near the restaurant where Gash works.

“I got my shells!” Gash said, holding up a Ziplock bag.

Gacioch said that he doesn’t think the rain is as bad as had been forecast and that local and state officials may have overreacted by evacuating much of the city. “But again, I understand why they did that. They’re concerned for people’s safety,” he said. “The governor, he did what he had to do. He’s supposed to make sure everybody’s safe.”

Still, city officials insisted that the storm is far from over. Overnight, some city roadways were flooded and there were 60 reports of property damage, including downed trees and power lines and broken traffic lights. But so far, officials said, the damage remains minimal.

“We want [people] to [be] back home as quickly as possible,” the city said in a Facebook post. “But first, Florence has to leave.”

— Kristine Phillips

10:07 a.m.: “There’s a lot of rain to come,” FEMA warns

While Florence’s wind speeds have lessened during its plodding crawl through the Carolinas, authorities have repeatedly warned residents not to take this as a sign that the danger has passed.

“The way a hurricane is classified is based on the wind,” FEMA Associate Administrator Jeff Byard said at a briefing Saturday morning. “Wind can hurt you . . . but it is the water, it’s the surge, it’s the rain that effects and can kill you more than the wind can in a hurricane.”

FEMA Associate Administrator Jeff Byard warned of the rain and intense flooding to come as Florence continues to move slowly inland on Sept. 15. (Video: Reuters)

Byard’s message has been one echoed repeatedly by state and federal authorities in recent days, amid the downgrading of Florence as its wind speed declined, even as it still created threats of intense flooding and storm surge.

“This is a massive storm that has put a lot of rain and a lot of water on our coast, inland,” Byard said. “There’s a lot of rain to come, there’s a lot of rain that’s fallen.”

As he spoke, Florence was continuing its slow churn across South Carolina, a steady path that forecasts said it would continue throughout Saturday.

“This thing will not move up the coast, it will not get out of the way, and we continue to just get copious amounts of rain,” Byard said.

The first two questions at Saturday’s briefing were about FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long, who was not present but has been under scrutiny this week amid an internal investigation of his use of government vehicles.

Byard, asked whether Long will remain in his post, said: “Our administrator’s our administrator. He’s given our team very clear guidance that the focus is Florence. I want to make sure I echo that . . . FEMA is clearly engaged, we know where our focus needs to be, and that is on the response and recovery.”

— Mark Berman

8:52 a.m.: Trump approves disaster declaration for North Carolina

The White House announced Saturday morning that President Trump had approved a disaster declaration for North Carolina a day earlier, an order that opens up federal funding, including housing and home repair grants.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) had on Thursday requested such a declaration, writing in the request that officials in his state “have been overwhelmed in preparing for and the expected severity from the hurricane.”

In a statement on Thursday announcing his request, Cooper said: “We know this massive storm will cause incredible damage and I’m asking Washington to act quickly so federal recovery help can come as soon as possible.”

— Mark Berman

8:40 a.m.: 385 rescued amid flooding in New Bern, city says 

This city took a significant hit from Florence in the storm’s early hours, with intense flooding prompting hundreds of rescues in the city, which has a downtown flanked by two rivers.

As of Saturday morning, 385 people had been rescued, according to Colleen Roberts, a spokeswoman for the city. She said shortly after 8 a.m. that authorities were working to determine how many people still need to be rescued; the rescue teams working Saturday were being pulled back in while they figure out how many people need to be saved, Roberts said.

How water damages a flooded house — and what can be saved

More than 1,200 people were in shelters Saturday morning, Roberts said, adding that the 24-hour curfew there remains in place.

Sheena Jordan said the storm had a hellish impact on her neighborhood in New Bern. She said there’s flooding in her backyard, but she doesn’t know how deep.

She has a gallon of drinkable water in her home, but she doesn’t know how long it will last between four people. She knows the water in New Bern will continue to rise, but she doesn’t know how she’d get to a shelter if she needed to leave.

Jordan left her car at the town’s DoubleTree hotel, where she works as a housekeeper. She said she doesn’t know when her power went out or when she’ll get her next paycheck.

As she sat on her porch, her nephew darted out the front door and ran toward the playground down the street. The water there was so high that he couldn’t see the bottom end of the seesaw.

Not long after New Bern was hit by rising waters, the panicked calls began as people began seeking rescue, a plight that received national attention. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), addressing the storm’s impact on Friday morning, highlighted what had happened there, saying that “the storm surge alone has overwhelmed the city of New Bern.”

— Mark Berman in Washington and Rachel Siegel in New Bern. 

8:14 a.m.: Florence “slowly” moving across South Carolina

Tropical Storm Florence was “moving slowly across eastern South Carolina” on Saturday morning, producing “catastrophic flooding” in the Carolinas as it dumped still more rain across the region, according to the National Hurricane Center.

According to the center’s morning bulletin, Florence is expected to drop intense rain across swaths of both North Carolina and South Carolina, with up to 30 or 40 inches forecast in some coastal areas.

“This rainfall will continue to produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding,” the center said.

By midnight Saturday, nearly two feet of rain was reported in Newport, N.C., the center reported. Even away from the most intense reach of the storm, parts of both Carolinas and Virginia could see up to 15 inches of rainfall. Storm surge also poses a continuing danger of flooding areas that would otherwise be dry, according to the bulletin.

Florence’s wind speed has decreased, causing the system to be downgraded to a tropical storm, but tropical-storm-force winds are still extending up to 175 miles from its center. Gusts of 51 mph have been reported in North Carolina, the bulletin said. The storm continues moving west at a grinding, slow pace, and that plodding movement will continue throughout Saturday, according to the hurricane center.

— Mark Berman

6:58 a.m.: Nearly 1 million power outages in the Carolinas

As the sun rose over the Carolinas on Saturday morning, nearly a million power outages were reported across North Carolina and South Carolina, according to state officials.

These outages had occurred as the storm’s assault continued Saturday, with Florence dumping still more rain and bringing yet more lashing winds to both states. More than 951,000 power outages were logged in both states, officials said, a number that ticked up in the hours before dawn.

Most of those outages were reported in North Carolina, according to that state’s Department of Public Safety. The agency said 786,000 lacked power, with the highest concentration of outages in a handful of counties, including New Hanover, Brunswick, Onslow, Carteret, Cumberland, Robeson, Sampson and Wake.

In South Carolina, the Division of Emergency Management said early Saturday that more than 165,000 households lacked power because of the storm.

Power company officials warned this week that as many as 3 million people could lose power because of the storm, while authorities have cautioned residents to expect outages that could linger for days.

— Mark Berman

Hundreds rescued in town of New Bern as Hurricane Florence batters North Carolina coast

6:35 a.m.: Hurricane evacuees face long journeys, lengthy stays in search for safety

For the people who left home because of Florence, filling shelters in the Southeast, these evacuations often mean the beginning of long, difficult journeys:

By the time Florence bore down on the Carolinas on Friday, bringing 100-mph winds, more than 10 feet of storm surge and disastrous amounts of rain, about 20,000 people had sought refuge at one of 200 Red Cross shelters across the region, said Rebecca Torriani, a regional spokeswoman for the organization. Across the Carolinas and Georgia, several other large public facilities and makeshift camps opened to serve those who had fled their homes.
Some patients had heart ailments, some were pregnant, some needed constant medication. Ages 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.

Head here to read more.

5:50 a.m.: Rain is picking up along North Carolina’s southeastern coast, as heavy bands of precipitation move inland off the Atlantic with Tropical Storm Florence. The National Weather Service says the heavy rainfall will add an additional 6 to 10 inches to these areas, exacerbating already serious flooding, by 11 a.m. Saturday.

“Life-threatening storm surge” is expected to continue along portions of the North Carolina coast today, and “life-threatening, catastrophic flash floods and prolonged, significant river flooding” will go on for days, threatening areas from the coast west into the central Appalachian Mountains, where landslides are also possible.

Wind is also picking up in some areas of the North and South Carolina coast, and tornado watches and warnings are in effect across several counties.

There are now 780,964 people without power in North Carolina, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety.

— Abigail Hauslohner

4:30 a.m.: Rivers are rising and nearly a million households have lost power

Rivers are rising across North and South Carolina, with several expected to crest higher than they did two years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, leaving standing floodwater in some rural communities for weeks.

The National Weather Service has announced more flash flood emergencies in Onslow and Duplin counties in North Carolina.

More than 940,000 households are without power across North and South Carolina, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and South Carolina’s Division of Emergency Management. More than 80 percent of the outages so far are in North Carolina.

— Abigail Hauslohner

2:30 a.m.: New daily rainfall record in Fayetteville, N.C.

The National Weather Service has reported a new daily rainfall record of 3.11 inches set at Fayetteville Regional Airport, about 100 miles inland from the coast, on the banks of the Cape Fear River. It broke the old record of 2.92 inches set in 1984.

Tropical storm Florence is now moving slowly inland at 5 miles per hour over far eastern South Carolina, as it continues to dump rain over a wide radius spanning both Carolinas in volumes that are expected soon to surpass other records set by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Florence is dropping one to three inches of rain an hour in some places, according to the National Weather Service.

— Abigail Hauslohner

A Coast Guard officer on Florence duty made a hand gesture on TV. Some saw a white-power sign.

12:23 a.m.: 773,903 are without power across North Carolina

At least 773,903 households were without power, as of midnight, the North Carolina Emergency Management Agency reported. Outages have been the most concentrated in New Hanover, Brunswick, Wake, Onslow, Carteret, Pender, Robeson, Wayne counties. Updates are available here.

Most of those counties were also under curfew overnight, amid a series of flash flood emergencies.

The National Weather Service posted a map of road closures in the Morehead City area — not to alert residents to specific road closures, but “to emphasize how bad it is.”

— Abigail Hauslohner

11:45 p.m.: Flash flood emergencies proliferate across North Carolina as heavy rain continues

The National Weather Service has issued flash flood emergencies — the most critical category of flood warning — for several counties, and flash flood and tornado warnings for several others. Friday’s forecasts suggest up to 50 inches of rain could fall in southeast North Carolina through Sunday.

To provide our readers with unlimited access to weather coverage and important safety information related to Florence, The Washington Post has temporarily removed the limit on the number of storm-related articles that can be read on our website without a subscription.

— Abigail Hauslohner

9:00 p.m.: Florence rainfall nears record levels, prompting a flash flood emergency

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood emergency — the most critical category of flood warning — for Carteret, Craven, Jones, and Pamlico counties in North Carolina, calling it a “significant flooding situation.”

Total rainfall from the storm reached 23.04 inches in Morehead as of 8 p.m., the agency announced, nearing the state record of 24.06 inches set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Friday’s forecasts suggest up to 50 inches of rain could fall in southeast North Carolina through Sunday.

— Angela Fritz

8:37 p.m.: The ‘long way around’: Truckers face a giant detour as Florence closes down highways

Professional truck drivers are adjusting their routes to avoid North and South Carolina, with both states “frozen” as Hurricane Florence unfolds.

Nesor Lopez, a trucker with Carroll Fulmer who drives the southeastern route as a regional driver, says no one is driving on I-95 into South Carolina right now and no one has any idea when the interstate will reopen. He was taking a break at a truck stop near the Richmond Hills exit on I-95 outside of Savannah.

“We cannot drive with winds above 50 mph, especially with light loads anyway,” Lopez said.

He said his longer-distance colleagues are taking the “long way around” to carry cargo up north by way of Atlanta by taking I-16 to Atlanta, up to the Tennessee border on I-75 and over on other interstates above North Carolina to New York and New England. He said navigating through Atlanta is probably challenging at this point.

In the meantime, Lopez continues to carry merchandise from such places as Walmart or Home Depot up to the Savannah area.

Lopez is based out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and has only been driving trucks for two years. He says he has seen his share of hurricanes but faced his first hurricane as a trucker in 2017 with Hurricane Irma.

— Sharon Dunten

7:30 p.m.: At least five deaths in North Carolina linked to Florence, officials say

Authorities in North Carolina had linked at least five deaths to the storm as of Friday evening, including a mother and an infant killed when a tree fell onto their home.

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

Officials in Pender County said a woman died Friday morning when she was having a heart attack and emergency crews were unable to reach her in time because of downed trees and debris in the road. The crews trying to get to her attempted to move the debris with a front loader, but a tree went through the windshield of the equipment, causing further delays, the officials said.

Storm evacuees are took shelter Sept. 14 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, where they hoped to keep their families and memories safe from Florence. (Video: Ashleigh Joplin, Robert Cummins/The Washington Post)

“This happened this morning at the height of our storm,” 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.”

In Lenoir County, local authorities reported two deaths, both in Kinston, a city southeast of Raleigh. A 78-year-old man was electrocuted Friday morning when trying to connect two extension cords in the rain, according to Roger Dail, the Lenoir County director of emergency services; family members found his body. A 77-year-old man’s body was also found by relatives on Friday morning. Officials believe he was killed after being blown down by wind when going outside to check on his hunting dogs, Dail said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of those who died in this storm,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) 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

7:14 p.m.: Rescue operation underway in New Bern, N.C.

6:40 p.m.: Evacuee died Thursday morning at shelter in Shallotte, N.C.

An evacuee at the West Brunswick High School shelter in Shallotte, N.C., died Thursday morning. Amanda Hutcheson, a spokeswoman for Brunswick County, said an investigation is underway but added that the death was unrelated to the storm and that there was no reason for others at the shelter to worry.

“We are saddened by the sudden passing of one of our community,” Hutcheson wrote in an email. “And our hearts go out to the family and friends who are now grieving during such an already stressful period.”

— Sarah Kaplan

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

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