Rising waters have already tormented the town of New Bern, located where the Neuse River comes in from the Pamlico Sound about halfway down the coast. About 150 people were waiting to be rescued Friday morning, according to the city.
“You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” said the city’s official Twitter account overnight, promising that swift water rescue teams were mobilizing.
More flooding is expected further inland, where rivers could overflow and inundate towns across the state.
Fierce winds lashed at Wilmington, a port city near the southeastern corner of the coast where many of the 120,000 residents had evacuated but some remain hunkered down to ride out the storm.
About a dozen people in the breakfast area of the Country Inn and Suites stared out the window as the wind howled and the trees swayed.
The power went out at 6:45 a.m., and Alejandra Rubio, 40, clutched a paper cup full of coffee.
“I feel scared,” she said.
Outside, the sky was blank and gray, and 80 mph wind gusts tore through the trees. Debris began piling up in the streets and parking lots.
Gov. Roy Cooper has requested additional federal assistance to help with recovering from the storm.
“We will survive this, and we will endure,” he said during a briefing in Raleigh, the state capital, on Thursday evening.
The storm was generating sustained winds of at least 90 mph as it inched ashore, traveling only 6 mph. Hurricane Florence has lost some power over the last few days — it made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, down from its earlier rating as a Category 4 with winds of 140 mph.
But the slow speed of travel may end up increasing the storm’s danger as high winds and rainfall linger over the state.
There could be other threats as well. A tornado watch was issued until 5 p.m. Eastern on Friday, and gusts of wind could reach 75 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Mandatory evacuations have turned large swaths of the state into boarded-up ghost towns, and government officials have urged residents to stay off the roads.
More than 12,000 people are riding out the storm in shelters.
Roughly 80,000 people have already lost power, and the number could reach closer to 3 million, according to Duke Energy, the state’s largest utility. The heaviest power outages are in the area around Wilmington and in the stretch of coastline between Emerald Isle and the Pamlico Sound.
Hurricane Florence hasn’t yet begun pummeling South Carolina, but forecasters expect storm winds to arrive within an hour, then rain with potential statewide impacts due to inland flooding.
“It’s knocking on the door,” said Chase Dearman, a spokesman for the state’s emergency operations center. “Extensive high winds and storm surge is going to be an issue as well as the rainfall.”
A mandatory coastal evacuation order left highways nearly empty in Charleston, the state’s largest city. About 130,000 people live in Charleston, 775,000 in the surrounding area.
In Myrtle Beach to the north, a few holdouts walked on the beach Friday morning. Inland in Columbia, the state’s capital and second-largest city, residents prepared for flooding along nearby rivers.
Dearman stressed that the evacuation order was still in place for Charleston and the rest of the coast.
“The safest place to be is away from the coastline,” he said.
(Jarvie reported from Wilmington, N.C. and Hennessy-Fiske reported from Columbia, S.C.)
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