WILMINGTON (North Carolina) • Hurricane Florence, weakened but still dangerous, crashed into the Carolinas yesterday as a giant, slow-moving storm that stranded residents with flood waters and swamped part of the town of New Bern at the beginning of what could be a days-long deluge.
The centre of the hurricane's eye came ashore last night Singapore time near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina, with sustained winds of 150kmh, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said Florence was set to cover almost all of the state in several metres of water.
As of yesterday evening Singapore time, Atlantic Beach, a town on North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier island chain, had already received 76cm of rain, the US Geological Service said.
On the mainland in New Bern, the authorities said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods, and that the downtown area was under water.
The town's public information officer Colleen Roberts told CNN that 150 more people were awaiting rescue, and that citizens were going out in their boats to help, despite swift currents.
"We are coming to get you," New Bern city officials said on Twitter. "You may need to move up to the second storey, or to your attic, but we are coming to get you."
There were no immediate reports of storm-related deaths or serious injuries but more than 60 people, as well as many children and pets, had to be evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds caused parts of the roof to collapse, local officials said.
National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear predicted that Hurricane Florence would drop up to eight months' worth of rain in just two or three days.
More than 440,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and South Carolina yesterday, utility officials said. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power, and that restoring it could take weeks.
Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane with 200kmh winds on Thursday, but dropped to Category 1 before coming ashore. But forecasters said its extreme size meant it could batter the US East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day.
It is expected to move across parts of south-eastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said. Significant weakening is expected at the weekend.
About 10 million people could be affected by the storm, and more than one million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.
Some residents ignored calls to evacuate.
"I had a lot of fear initially, but I am glad to be inside and safe," said Ms Zelda Allen, 74, a retired tax accountant from Hampstead, North Carolina, who was riding out the storm at Wilmington's Hotel Ballast with her husband.
"I am worried about what I might find when I go home, though," she said.