WILMINGTON, North Carolina - The outer bands of Hurricane Florence drenched the Carolinas on Thursday, flooding roads, gorging rivers and knocking out power in an ominous glimpse of the damage the storm could inflict when it makes landfall on Friday with millions of people in its path.
A now-weakened Category 2 storm, Hurricane Florence still is expected to be "extremely dangerous" and "life threatening", the National Hurricane Center said. From 1963 to 2012, 49 percent of US hurricane deaths were from storm surge, 27 percent from rain, 8 percent from wind, 6 percent from surf, 6 percent were offshore and 3 percent from tornadoes, according to a National Hurricane Center study.
Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Thursday evening and was moving west at only 6 miles per hour (9 km/h).
State and local officials warned residents to remain vigilant as Hurricane Florence battered the Carolina coastline with 100-mph winds and surging sea levels. "Please keep that in mind", and consider leaving soon, Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said midmorning Thursday.
Early on Friday, the downtown area of the city of New Bern, on the Trent and Neuse rivers near the North Carolina coast, was underwater as emergency crews conducted several rescues, according to reports on social media.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference that the "historic" hurricane would unleash rains and floods that would inundate nearly the entire state in several feet of water.
The storm's center was about 145 miles (235 km) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as of Thursday night.
The flooding soon spread into SC, swamping places like North Myrtle Beach, in a resort area known for its white sands and multitude of golf courses. South Carolina's state capital Columbia is at only 89m (292ft).
"I've never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked", he said. "I've got four cats inside the house".
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Tropical Storm Florence crawls inland as it batters North and SC
The rest of SC and North Carolina into southwestern Virginia will experience 5 to 10 inches, with isolated totals up to 15 inches. Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it's unclear how many did.
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That study - conducted by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University - estimated 2,975 deaths. It's an isolated island that lost its infrastructure and power for a long time, you couldn't get to people for a long time".
"Since my husband retired and my health declined, we have his retirement as an income".
In its 1 a.m. Friday update, the NHC said Florence was about 45 miles east of Wilmington, NC, packing maximum-sustained winds of 90 mph.
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) Blowing ashore with howling 90 miles per hour (155 kph) winds, Florence splintered buildings, trapped hundreds of people and swamped entire communities along the Carolina coast Friday in what could be just the opening act in a watery, two-part, slow-motion disaster. Hurricane-force winds extended 130km from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 315km.
A fast-moving hurricane can be deadly, but a hurricane that stalls-meaning that it spends more time pounding a particular area with strong winds and heavy rain-can be even worse.
"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", the NHC said.
Myrtle Beach, a SC beach resort, was virtually deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic.
Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland have declared states of emergency.
Roughly 1 million people are under evacuation orders. A 78-year-old man was electrocuted attempting to connect extension cords while another man died when he was blown down by high winds while checking on his hunting dogs, a county spokesman said. "I'm not leaving him here".
"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm probably a 7" in terms of worry, she said.