Florence comes ashore with pounding rain and storm surges
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Hurricane Florence was making landfall in North Carolina early Friday with a life-threatening storm surge that pushed water inland for miles and screaming winds that destroyed buildings in its path.
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Seventy 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.
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.
As of 6 a.m., Florence was centered just 10 miles (20 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina. Its forward movement was 6 mph (9 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended 90 miles (150 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometers).
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 seas.
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 power failed.
“(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.
The National Hurricane Center said a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, reported 6.3 feet (1.92 meters) of inundation. Emerald Isle is about 84 miles 135 kilometers) north of Wilmington.
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.
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