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WILMINGTON, N.C. — Hurricane Florence made landfall early Friday on North Carolina’s coast, bringing extreme winds and threatening massive storm surges as officials reported dozens of water rescues overnight.
The eye of the storm passed over the coast near Wrightsville Beach, northeast of Wilmington, at 7:15 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said.
Here’s the latest on Hurricane Florence:
- As of 8 a.m. ET Friday, Florence was 10 miles south of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 65 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and moving west at around 6 mph.
- There were more than 455,000 power outages as of early Friday in North Carolina, according to the state department of public safety.
- New Bern, north of Wilmington, has more than 150 people requiring rescue Friday morning.
- Wind gusts at Wilmington International Airport reached 105 mph in the storm’s eyewall, the highest wind gust since 1958.
- The Red Cross said more than 1,600 people spent Thursday night in 36 Red Cross and community shelters in the Carolinas.
The Category 1 storm was downgraded late Thursday, but continued to carry maximum sustained winds of 90 mph and crawled along at just 6 mph. Forecasters warned of “catastrophic” freshwater flooding along the Carolinas and the potential for up to 40 inches of rain in some parts.
More than 455,000 customers were without power Friday morning, according to emergency management officials, as social media users shared videos of snapped trees and water rushing onto coastal streets like rivers.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said there were no immediate reports of deaths, but cautioned the flooding and rising waters could inundate low-lying communities for days.
“This is an uninvited brute that just won’t leave,” Cooper said on “Today.”
The storm’s eye passed over downtown Wilmington at sunrise, capping a long night of groaning winds and pounding rain.
The Cape Fear River, which runs along downtown’s western edge, churned with whitecaps. Just as light began to break, the power cut out, leaving the entire city of about 115,000 residents in a grey shroud. Water was already rising in roads and buildings.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Sasso said his city has gotten more than 100 emergency calls, but crews have had difficulty getting out while the storm rages ashore and there’s been “significant” inland flooding.
“It’s pretty bad. It’s deteriorating very quickly, and it’ll be like this for quite some time,” Sasso told “Today.”
“I’ve been here all my life, and I’ve never seen a hurricane that’s here for two days and pretty much on top of you,” he added.
Buddy Martinette, chief of the Wilmington Fire Department, said crews have been unable to reach the city’s beach neighborhoods and felled trees have turned accessing roads into a “jigsaw” puzzle.
Officials have been most concerned about torrential rainfall and flooding as high tide approaches by noon. The NHC said a gauge in Emerald Isle, about 84 miles north of Wilmington, reported 6.3 feet of inundation.
Fire and rescue officials in the riverfront city of New Bern, about 90 miles north of Wilmington, said water rescues were taking place and urged people not to take refuge in their attics unless they have a way to cut through the ceiling.
New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw said about 200 people were rescued overnight and taken to shelters, while another 150 were still awaiting help early Friday. He said some residents remained holdouts even after crews went door to door pleading for them to seek emergency shelter.
“Be patient, we’re on the way. We will get you rescued — all 150,” Outlaw said while cautioning that first responders must be careful for their own safety.
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, more than 60 people, including one child, had to be rescued from a hotel just after 12:30 a.m. ET as the storm threatened its structural integrity, Mayor Sammy Phillips told “Today.” No one was killed, but there were reports of trees and power lines and other damage elsewhere in the city.
In total, more than 10 million people face “life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds” from Florence, the NHC said. Days ahead of the storm, about 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were warned to evacuate before its outer bands reached the coast Thursday.
Among those deciding not to flee Florence was Wilmington resident Julio Martinez, who told NBC News on Thursday that he had hoarded enough water and food to last a few days.
“Everyone is evacuating and freaking out,” Martinez, 28, said, “and I tell them, ‘I’ll see you when you get back.'”
Downpours from Florence were expected to continue through the weekend into early next week, having already produced more than 10 inches as the storm moves through South Carolina and farther inland. Severe flooding is forecast from Charleston to Columbia in South Carolina and north in Charlotte, North Carolina.
On Twitter, President Donald Trump thanked first responders and law enforcement for their “incredible job” during Florence.
Trump received backlash for tweeting Thursday that “3,000 people did not die” in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. An independent report commissioned by the Puerto Rican government and conducted by George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health found an estimated 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico in the five months after Maria devastated the island.
Jon Schuppe reported from Wilmington, and Erik Ortiz reported from New York.
Jon Schuppe and Erik Ortiz
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