Florence still weakening; still unsafe

A man crosses a flooded street in New Bern North Carolina

A man crosses a flooded street in New Bern North Carolina

The Category 1 hurricane, with wind of more than 90 mph and dumping 3 inches of rain an hour, made landfall at 7:15 a.m. ET near Wrightsville Beach, just east of Wilmington. The city said two out-of-state FEMA teams were working on swift-water rescues, and more teams were on the way.

Others were at home hoping for the best.

"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", the city of New Bern tweeted around 2 a.m.

"You can't get over till we have power and we have sewer up and running", said the retired teacher and real estate agent, who rode out the hurricane in an inland hotel.

Florence flattened trees, crumbled roads and knocked out power to more than 700,000 homes and businesses, and the assault wasn't anywhere near an end.

Forecasters warned that drenching rains of anywhere from 1 to 3½ feet as the storm crawls westward across North and SC could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned that "disaster is at the doorstep" and pleaded with residents and tourists alike not to underestimate Florence's threat to life. He called the rain an event that comes along only once every 1,000 years.

Are you affected by Hurricane Florence?

His video at the top of this story was taken in Wilmington, North Carolina where Hurricane Florence stripped the roofing from buildings, collapsed gas stations and snapped trees.

The category 1 hurricane is packing peak winds of 90 miles per hour (150 km/h).

Storm surges, punishing winds and rain are turning some towns into rushing rivers - and the storm is expected to crawl over parts of the Carolinas into the weekend, pounding some of the same areas over and over.

The area is expected to get about as much rain in three days as Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd dropped in two weeks in 1999.

About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed, with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.

Florence could become a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared past year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at almost 3,000.

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At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Mr Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.

The National Hurricane Center said early Friday that a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently reported 6.3 feet (1.92 meters) of inundation.

Pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air. Traffic lights out of order because of power failures swayed in the gusty wind.

At noon, the wobbly center of Florence was about 25 miles (45 kilometers) southwest of Wilmington, its winds down to 80 mph (130 kmh), forecasters said.

The National Hurricane Center says Florence is about to make landfall in North Carolina bringing with it life-threatening storm surges and hurricane force winds.

The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of up to 21 miles per hour (34 kph) on Friday morning in Columbia.

The 62 guests were rescused from The Triangle Motor Inn in Jacksonville which had been structurally damaged.

Farther up the coast, in New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River trapped people. One team from Maryland helped with about 40 rescues in New Bern starting Thursday, member Mitchell Rusland said.

Shaken after seeing waves crashing in the Neuse River just outside his house in the town of New Bern, hurricane veteran Tom Ballance wished he had evacuated. Six sheriff's officers came to his house to rescue him Friday morning, but he didn't need to leave since the water was dropping by then.

"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth", he said.

The wind howled and sheets of rain splattered against windows of a hotel before dawn in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the power failed.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Spanish moss waved in the trees as the winds picked up in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City. "Nothing's hit the house yet, but it's still blowing".

Forecasters said conditions will continue to deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.

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