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More than 900,000 in NC without power as massive storm Florence pounds the state

Hurricane Florence churned through North Carolina on Friday, knocking out electricity for more than 900,000 customers throughout eastern North Carolina and in the state’s midsection.

Utility crews had largely stopped stringing power lines during the peak of the storm and said they would not resume restoring power until wind speeds subsided and flood waters receded, which could take several areas in the hardest-hit areas.

The latest power outages were reported as of 7:30 a.m. Saturday, according to online updates from Duke Energy, rural electric cooperatives and municipal power agencies

The public started reporting scattered power outages as early as Wednesday afternoon, when the first gusts of Florence buffeted the state, and the numbers have climbed sharply as the storm worked its way through North Carolina.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a public warning Friday that the storm was still in the early stages and that conditions — including severe flooding, landslides in the mountains, and power outages statewide — would only get worse.

Charlotte-based Duke had posted about 535.000 customers without power in eastern and central counties, including nearly 113,000 in coastal New Hanover county alone. The utility is reporting more than 29,000 customers without power in Wake County.

Duke crews stop making repairs to downed power lines when winds speeds reach 35 mph because in those conditions it is unsafe for linemen to work in bucket trucks.

Rural electric cooperatives reported more than 325,000 customers who have lost power, mostly clustered in the southeastern part of the state.

Municipal power agencies are also reporting significant outages. In Fayetteville, about 50,000 have lost power and more than 12,000 are still without power in New Bern, which is experiencing severe flooding, according to ElectriCities, the organization that supports the local power agencies. New Bern has restored power to nearly 10,000 customers as of Saturday morning, according to ElectriCities.

Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Energy, which provides power to 122,000 customers in the northeastern corner of North Carolina, was reporting scattered outages throughout the day, with only a handful still out by Saturday morning.

Duke prioritizes restoring power at substations, which are upstream in the power grid, and then focuses on reconnecting hospitals, first responders, water treatment plants and other essential facilities. At the neighborhood level, Duke prioritizes those repairs that restore power to the greatest number of households.

In all, several million people could lose power by the time Florence sloshes its way through the state. The storm was a dangerous Category 4 hurricane Wednesday but was downgraded Thursday night to a Category 1 storm, and Friday to a tropical storm. It was still considered dangerous with potential for strong gusts and hazardous flooding.

Duke has said it could take several weeks to fully restore power in areas that are inaccessible due to flooding. The company said as many as three-fourths of its 4 million customers in North Carolina and South Carolina could lose power.

Florence could prove more destructive than Matthew in 2016, Duke officials said. After Matthew soaked the state, restoration effort by Duke Energy Progress restoration involved restringing nearly 300 miles of downed wire and replacing 5,500 utility poles.

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