Hurricane Florence lashed the North Carolina coast Friday, leaving major flooding, damage to homes and businesses, 150 people stranded in their flooded houses and more than 600,000 homes and businesses without power.
The storm’s powerful winds claimed the lives of four people. Two died in Wilmington after a tree was blown into a home, local police announced Friday afternoon in a tweet. They said a woman and her infant child died at the scene, and the father was transported to a nearby hospital with injuries.
A third death was confirmed in Pender County when a woman suffered a fatal heart attack and first responders couldn’t reach her because of storm debris in the roadway, county spokeswoman Tammy Proctor told local media. Another death was confirmed in Lenoir County when a person was killed while plugging in a generator, Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.
With feet of rain still expected to fall in the coming days, the disaster was only getting started for the Old North State.
“Our predictions show that the Lumber and Cape Fear rivers will crest significantly higher than they did with Hurricane Matthew,” said Cooper.
At 7:15 a.m. Friday morning, Florence made landfall at Wrightsville Beach with 90-mph winds, heavy surf and torrential rain that triggered flooding and knocked down trees and power lines.
Some 120 people were still awaiting rescue at 10:30 a.m. Friday morning in New Bern, city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts told the Associated Press. Officials said more than 200 people had already been rescued. New Bern, a city of about 30,000 residents, saw significant storm surge flooding after the Neuse River overflowed its banks and swept into the town.
Craven County spokeswoman Amber Parker told ABC News that some people were trapped on their roofs.
“I would say certain areas of New Bern are very desperate,” she told the network.
In the town of Jacksonville, officials said the Triangle Motor Inn had to be evacuated overnight after the structure began to sustain damage from the storm, according to the Jacksonville Daily News. Firefighters noticed the cinderblock structure was crumbling and removed all 60 people inside the hotel a little at about 1 a.m. Friday morning, the report added.
All 60 people were taken to the Jacksonville Center for Public Safety and no injuries were reported, the Daily News also said.
Roads were covered with flood water in what was expected to be the first of many waves of ever-worsening floods. Officials in Onslow County reported major damage to homes and businesses around the county. Onslow County encompasses the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and the cities of Jacksonville and Topsail Beach.
At WCTI-TV, an ABC affiliate in New Bern, most of the station’s employees had to be evacuated Thursday night because of flooding. Chief meteorologist Donnie Cox and fellow meteorologist Shane Hinton stayed on the air as long as they could before a sister station picked up the broadcast.
Forecasters warned that the next major high tide early Friday afternoon would bring life-threatening conditions and significant damage. Significant inundation of coastal, bayside and soundside tributaries and tidal creeks is likely.
“Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless,” Cooper told reporters. “It’s an uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave.”
The first flooding was reported near N.C. 12, the roadway that runs through the Outer Banks – the chain of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast. The state Transportation Department said water and sand covered the highway near Rodanthe and in Avon, Buxton and just north of Hatteras Village.
Scenes of storm surge washing over roads and sloshing into houses on the state’s beaches played out all Thursday afternoon, including on Avon Beach, Carolina Beach and Topsail Beach.
Ahead of the storm, Cooper ordered a mandatory evacuation of all barrier islands; evacuation orders are usually issued locally, and several areas already ordered evacuations ahead of Cooper’s decree.
“We in North Carolina have to shift from preparation to determination. We will survive this and endure,” Cooper said.
In the higher elevations of western North Carolina, officials feared days of heavy rainfall would trigger dangerous mudslides. As a result, all campgrounds were evacuated along the Blue Ridge Parkway, according to the Charlotte Observer.
On Friday, officials announced that the entire 469-mile stretch of the parkway would close indefinitely starting at 8 p.m. Friday night, WSLS.com reported.
“We’re going to see what the storm brings through the weekend and first of (next) week and make decisions to reopen in the interest of the public and staff safety as well as parkway resources,” parkway spokeswoman Leesa Brandon told the Asheville Citizen-Times.