This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. ET
An “erratic” Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday morning near Wrightsville Beach, as North Carolina first responders and the governor reported the first five deaths associated with the storm.
Wilmington police reported a tree fell on a house, killing a mother and her child. Pender County Emergency Management reported that a woman died of a heart attack when emergency crews couldn’t reach her because of fallen trees. Gov. Roy Cooper’s office reported a person was killed plugging in a generator in Lenoir County, and a fifth person in Kinston died after being “blown down by the wind.”
“Torrential” rains are expected to continue, the National Hurricane Center said as of its 3 p.m. update and “catastrophic” freshwater flooding is expected over parts of North and South Carolina.
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Florence is producing 20-plus inches of rain in coastal cities, the NHC reported.
As of 1 p.m., more than 20 inches of rain had been recorded in Oriental, N.C. As of 3 p.m., more than 15 inches were recorded in Morehead City, N.C.
Florence’s sustained winds had dropped to 75 mph, which means it’s close to being downgraded to a tropical storm. A storm must have sustained winds of at least 74 mph to be considered a category 1 hurricane, the NHC said. More weakening is expected.
At noon, the storm’s eye was “wobbling slowly along the coast” where it made a turn west. “An erratic motion between westward and west-southwestward is likely today,” said the NHC.
Meanwhile, storm surge, rising rivers and heavy rain have lead to reports of widespread flooding along the coast, including a 10-foot rise in North Carolina’s Neuse River, which has endangered at least 150 people stranded in New Bern.
“I see a biblical proportion flood event that’s going to occur,” Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous told ABC News. “I see the beach communities being inundated with water and destruction that will be pretty, pretty epic in nature.”
As of noon, the storm continued to have maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, said the National Hurricane Center. Gusts of 72 to 87 mph were being reported in such areas as Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington and Oak Island, said the NHC.
Earlier in the day, a wind gust of 105 mph occurred at the Wilmington Airport, a 98 mph gust was reported in Kirkland and a 95 mph gust was recorded at the weather station at Federal Point, said the NHC.
The storm is predicted to move inland across the “extreme” southeastern North Carolina and “extreme” eastern South Carolina today and Saturday, said the NHC at 2 p.m.
“Florence will then move generally northward across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week,” says the NHC.
When did Florence make landfall?
Hurricane Florence officially made landfall at 7:15 a.m. ET near Wrightsville Beach, according to the National Hurricane Center. The first of the rain and wind gusts from Florence rolled ashore just before dawn Thursday at Morehead City, a Carteret County town that is expected to get 20 to 25 inches of rain in the next three days. Isolated spots could see 30 to 40 inches of rain,” says the NHC.
How big a storm is Florence?
“Florence is a tremendously large hurricane,” the NHC said. “Hurricane-force winds (74-95 mph) extend outward up to 80 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds (39 to 73 mph) extend outward up to 195 miles.”
How many are without power?
Almost 500,000 people in North Carolina were without power as of 9:33 a.m., according to a tweet from NC Emergency Management. “The top counties affected are Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender,” according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
In South Carolina, SCE&G reported no outages as of 11 p.m., but the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina said there were 276 power outages in Georgetown County — near Myrtle Beach — and 1,747 outages in Horry County.
Where is there flooding?
Roads in New Bern and greater Craven County are hit by rain and flooding from the Neuse River. A gauge where the Trent and Neuse rivers meet in New Bern recorded 10.1 feet of flooding about midnight.
Craven County emergency officials “reported rescuing multiple residents from Hurricane Florence floodwaters through the early morning Friday,” even though residents were ordered to evacuate on Tuesday, The Herald-Sun reported.
The City of New Bern said crews were working to get to 150 people awaiting rescue as of early Friday morning.
“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” the city said in a tweet. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”
The Cherry Branch Ferry Terminal on the Neuse River near Havelock is seeing a storm surge of 10 feet above normal levels, according to the NHC.
N.C. 12 is closed on Hatteras Island and parts of U.S. 70 are shut down between Beaufort and Atlantic, as floodwaters covered the pavement, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The National Weather Service is forecasting record Cape Fear River flooding in Pender and Duplin counties early next week, with the water reaching about 24 feet, or 11 feet above flood stage.
The threat of freshwater flooding will increase in the coming days, according to the NHC. “Heavy and excessive rainfall” could cause “catastrophic flash flooding” in both Carolinas, as some areas are forecast to receive 20 to 30 inches of rain, and isolated spots of 40 inches.
The Weather Channel is reporting the Neuse River in North Carolina’s Piedmont has risen 10 feet as of 5 am.
What about tornadoes?
“Almost all tropical cyclones making landfall in the United States spawn at least one tornado, provided enough of the tropical cyclones circulation moves over land,” a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
Radar showed a half-dozen tornadoes in eastern and southeastern North Carolina on Thursday, the National Weather Service reported. Much of the North Carolina coast has been under a tornado watch since Thursday morning.
The NHC said more tornadoes are possible in “eastern and southeastern North Carolina through Friday.”
What happens next?
Florence is expected to move inland across “extreme southeastern North Carolina and extreme eastern South Carolina,” Friday and Saturday, the NHC reported. Beginning Sunday, the storm is predicted to curve sharply north and east beginning along the western edges of North and South Carolina and move upward through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and into New York by 2 p.m. Tuesday.
“Hurricane conditions are occurring over portions of the coast of North Carolina and are expected to spread across portions of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina through Friday,” the NHC reported. “Tropical storm conditions are expected to spread inland across the remainder of the warning area through Saturday.”