Florence lumbers inland, leaving five dead, communities flooded

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WILMINGTON: Florence barreled into the Carolina coast and moved inland on Friday, knocking down trees, overflowing rivers, dumping sheets of rain and leading to the death of five people before it was downgraded to a tropical storm still capable of wreaking havoc.

The worst of the storm's fury had yet to reach coastal SC, where emergency managers said it was not too late for people to get out.

"The same places have seen all of this water, and the same places will see more water", CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Saturday morning.

Officials in New Bern, which dates to the early 18th century, said over 100 people were rescued from floods and the downtown was under water by Friday afternoon.

More than a million people along the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been ordered to evacuate. Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence is expected to be re-categorised as a tropical depression by the time it moves into the mid-Atlantic states and New England in the middle of next week. It was moving west at 2 miles per hour, the National Weather Service said.

South Carolina Department of Transportation head Christy Hall said trees are already down in areas of Horry County and citizens should prepare for flooding. Today, this band of intense, prolonged rainfall will move over areas that have already received between 5 and 15 inches of rain.

A damaged house is seen after Hurricane Florence struck in Winnabow, North Carolina, U.S., September 15, 2018. The woman's husband was injured in the incident and taken to a nearby hospital, according to police.

"Very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing sideways, debris flying", said Orsa, who lives nearby and feared splintering trees would pummel her house.

"Seeing them get out of the vehicle and seeing their emotions was heartbreaking", he said.

A 78-year-old man in Kinston, North Carolina, was electrocuted when he tried to connect two extension cords outside in the rain, according to Lenoir County Emergency Services Director Roger Dail.

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Cooper cited a National Weather Service forecast that said almost the entire state could be covered in several feet of water. Marson said they'd lost power and the winds were howling outside, but they had enough food and water to last them for days.

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Jeff Byard of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was imperative locals heed the evacuation warnings. For example, the seas off of Wilmington, North Carolina have risen 7.5 inches since 1935, according to NOAA.

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Its landfall may be over southern parts of North Carolina affecting North and SC as well as Virginia by Friday morning local time. President Donald Trump both touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths.

The rising sea crept towards the two-storey home of Tom Copeland, who lives on a spit of land surrounded by water in Swansboro.

Also of concern is the sprawling Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia and Marine Corps bases at Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point in North Carolina and at Parris Island in SC. But the center continued to warn about the threat of water.

As they waited for emergency workers, they heard neighbors screaming for help.

"I'm anxious about what I might find when I go home, though", she said. The entire area had lost electricity, and some people were in chest-deep water while others retreated to attics, she said.

She said she called 911, but no one came.

"The size of the tree is not something you could simply cut with a chainsaw and remove and then quickly extricate", he said.

Florence's forward movement during the day slowed to a near-standstill - sometimes it was going no faster than a human can walk - and that enabled it to pile on the rain.

And weather officials said more is coming, labeling as "extreme" the impacts from storm surge and flash flooding.

- Authorities in the coastal city of New Bern were working with federal responders to rescue at least 150 residents who reported themselves stranded in Hurricane Florence's storm surge.

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