Florence arrives, danger in tow
Hurricane Florence was making a marathon landfall in North Carolina early Friday, pushing a life-threatening storm surge of floodwaters miles inland and ripping apart buildings with screaming wind and pelting rain.
More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel at the height of the storm, CBS Greenville affiliate WNCT-TV reports. Many more who defied evacuation orders were hoping to be rescued. Pieces of buildings ripped apart by the storm flew through the air.
Most ominously, forecasters said the terrifying onslaught would last for hours and hours, because Florence was barely creeping along and still drawing energy from the ocean.
Coastal streets flowed with frothy ocean water and tens of thousands lost electricity. Forecasters said “catastrophic” freshwater flooding was expected along waterways far from the coast of the Carolinas.
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 National Hurricane Center said a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, reported 6.3 feet of inundation. Emerald Isle is about 84 miles north of Wilmington, North Carolina.
And about 46 miles farther up the waterfront, in New Bern, two FEMA teams were working on swift-water rescues and more were on the way.
The worst of the storm’s fury had yet to reach coastal South Carolina, where emergency managers said people could still leave flood-prone areas.
“There is still time, but not a lot of time,” said Derrec Becker of the South Carolina Department of Emergency Management.
North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centers 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.
Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia.
Forecasters said conditions will continue to deteriorate as the storm makes its way slowly inland. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.
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 year.