Hurricane Florence made landfall in the US east coast on Friday, with storm surge of some 3 meters (10 feet). Coastal streets were inundated with ocean water, causing damage to dozens of homes and businesses, officials said.
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) described how winds of up to 90 miles (150 kilometers) per hour were pummeling the state of North Carolina, where at least four people have died.
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According to the NHC, Florence entered North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane and was downgraded to a tropical storm, as it made its way inland. Authorities warned that even in its weakened state, the storm still carried "very dangerous winds" and the potential for epic flooding.
"Just because the wind speed came down, the intensity of this storm came down ... please do not let your guard down," said Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), earlier on Thursday.
Given the storm's size and slow speed, officials warned that Florence could cause similar large-scale flood damage to that seen in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago.
"Inland flooding kills a lot of people, unfortunately, and that's what we're about to see," Long added.
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Within hours of the storm making landfall, officials in Onslow County — which includes the city of Jacksonville — reported "major structural damage to homes, businesses and institutions."
WXII-TV reported that 150 people were waiting to be rescued from rising waters in the city of New Bern. A city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts told WRAL-TV that 200 people have already been plucked to safety.
About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been put under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders to avoid what emergency officials are calling a "once in a lifetime" storm.
Thousands of people have taken temporary shelter in converted schools and community centers, while those who have ignored orders have been warned that rescuers will not be able to reach them at the height of the storm.
North Carolina's Emergency Management tweeted that more than 154,000 homes were already without electricity by late Thursday. Duke Energy, a local power company, estimated that up to three million customers could lose their supply as a result of Florence.
In addition to the potentially destructive hurricane, forecasters also put parts of North Carolina on tornado watch.
mm/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)
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