WILMINGTON (North Carolina) • Tropical storm Florence lumbered inland yesterday, knocking down trees, flooding rivers, and dumping sheets of rain in the Carolinas where five people have died.
It diminished from hurricane force as it came ashore, but forecasters said the 560km-wide storm's slow progress across North and South Carolina could leave much of the region under water in the coming days.
"This storm is relentless and excruciating," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told CNN late last Friday. "There is probably not a county or a person that will not be affected in some way by this very massive and violent storm."
A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on their home in Wilmington, North Carolina. The child's injured father was taken to hospital. In Pender County, a woman died of a heart attack after paramedics trying to reach her were blocked by debris.
Two people died in Lenoir County. 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.
In the city of New Bern near the North Carolina coast, the storm surge overwhelmed the town of 30,000, which is at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers.
This storm is relentless and excruciating. There is probably not a county or a person that will not be affected in some way by this very massive and violent storm.
NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR ROY COOPER
Officials in New Bern said more than 100 people were rescued from floods and the downtown was under water by Friday afternoon.
Resident Jay Manning said he and his wife watched with alarm as water filled the street. "We moved all the furniture up in case the water comes in, but the water seems to be staying at the edge of the driveway," he said, adding that if the wind picks up and the rain keeps coming, that could change. "My wife's in a panic right now."
Florence was a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale with 190kmh winds on Thursday. It was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane before coming ashore near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina, last Friday.
The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) downgraded it to a tropical storm, but warned it would dump as much as 76cm to 102cm of rain on the south-eastern coast of North Carolina and parts of north-eastern South Carolina.
About 10 million people could be affected by the storm. More than 22,600 people were housed in 150 shelters statewide. "This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged, significant river flooding," the NHC said.
Atlantic Beach on North Carolina's Outer Banks islands had already received 76cm of rain, the US Geological Survey said.
North Carolina utilities estimated that as many as 2.5 million state residents could be left without power, the state's Department of Public Safety said.
The White House yesterday said President Donald Trump had approved making federal funding available in some counties. Mr Trump, who spoke with state and local officials last Friday, is planning a visit to the region this week.