UPDATE: According to the National Hurricane Center, the eye of Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at 7:15 am ET with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.
NORTH CAROLINA — As Hurricane Florence pounds the North Carolina coast with 90-mph winds and relentless rain, more than 100 people have been plucked from a storm surge that’s already reached 10 feet, as dozens more await rescue.
The storm’s worst scenes so far — still an hour or two before landfall — have emerged in the besieged town of New Bern, where about 150 people called for help overnight, city officials said. They urged residents to take shelter at the highest points of their homes, including rooftops.
“In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest,” said Peggy Perry, who along with three relatives, was trapped early Friday in her New Bern home. “We are stuck in the attic.”
The Category 1 hurricane’s center is expected to crash onshore midmorning Friday, then linger for another whole day, unloading flash flooding, pounding wind and towering storm surges at least through Saturday. Florence’s rain will reach 40 inches in some parts of the Carolina coasts, forecasters said. Gusty winds will send the ocean and rivers spilling into neighborhoods.
By Friday morning, Florence already had:
• Sapped power to nearly 437,000 customers in North and South Carolina, emergency officials said.
• Pushed in a storm surge of 10 feet above normal levels in Morehead City, North Carolina, the National Weather Service said.
• Forced more than 60 people to evacuate a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after part of the roof collapsed, city officials said.
• Canceled more than 1,300 flights along the East Coast through Friday.
Hours earlier, streets along the coast had been transformed into raging streams, and massive waves surged along the Outer Banks.
“There’s already water (in the) bottom part of people’s houses,” Todd Willis, who lives in Kennel Beach, North Carolina, said Thursday night. “This is just the beginning.”
• It’s closing in: The eyewall is onshore in North Carolina coast, the National Hurricane Center said around 6 a.m. Friday. Florence’s landfall — when the center of the eye reaches land — is likely to happen midmorning Friday, CNN forecasters said.
• Downgraded but dangerous: Though now a Category 1 storm, hurricane-force winds extend 80 miles from Florence’s center, and it will linger for days, with prolonged winds and rain making it more dangerous.
• Ominous warning: “Don’t focus on the category of the storm. Hurricane Florence will slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland. This will cause extremely dangerous flooding,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned.
• Areas threatened: Hurricane warnings and storm surge warnings are in effect for South Santee River in South Carolina to Duck, North Carolina.
• Location of Florence: By 6 a.m. Friday, the hurricane was about 10 miles (55 km) east of Wilmington and was crawling at 6 mph (9 kmh). At 90 mph, its wind speed was dipping but still dangerous.
Rescues and narrow escapes
More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate before the streets became inundated.
Morehead City resident Rebecca Marson decided not to evacuate because her surgeon husband wanted to remain behind with other first responders. They’re riding out the storm at their home with four children — ages 11 to 17 — Marson’s friend, four dogs, two chinchillas, a cat and a lizard.
Marson said they’d lost power and the winds were howling outside, but they had enough food and water to last them for days.
New Bern’s WCTI television employees fled their studio Thursday night due to rising flood waters. Footage posted on social media showed a meteorologist saying on air that they had to evacuate. He then leaves the studio and leaves a radar of Florence’s rain bands playing on a loop.
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, city officials posted photos of toppled gas pumps and a downed trees early Friday, warning residents to take shelter and avoid roadways.
Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.
Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic.