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As Hurricane Florence hurtles into the Carolinas and residents gear up for what’s now a Category 1 storm, our reporters and photojournalists are on the coast and around the region. Their Wednesday reports from the coast are here.
You can follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/newsobserver/lists/hurricane-mcclatchy
NC: More than 181,000 without power
11:59 p.m.: Hurricane Florence wasn’t expected to make landfall until Friday morning, but residents in coastal areas were already losing power as fierce gusts lashed the eastern edge of North Carolina.
More than 181,000 residents and businesses, mostly in eastern counties, were without power as of 11:30 p.m., according to online updates from Duke Energy, the N.C. Electric Cooperatives and smaller utility companies.
Duke Energy was reporting scattered power outages across the Piedmont, including 343 customers without power in Wake County, 1,218 in Chatham County, and 688 in Johnston County.
The surge in power outages along the coast was the result of gusts coming off Hurricane Florence and blowing trees into power lines, said Lisa Crawley, a spokeswoman for the co-ops. At about 4 p.m., the outages totaled about 20,000, but blackouts intensified as the hurricane strengthened on its approach to land.
U.S. Rep. George Holding, of Raleigh, told Fox Business Channel Thursday that Florence could leave parts of North Carolina without power into October. “You need to be prepared to be without power for weeks,” Holding said, pointing out that Hurricane Fran knocked out power for two weeks and Hurricane Matthew left him without power for five days. “Be prepared to be without power for a month. That’s serious.”
Several million people could lose power by the time Florence sloshes its way through the state. The storm was downgraded Thursday night to a Category 1 storm, but still had potential for strong winds and hazardous flooding.
— TAMMY GRUBB AND JOHN MURAWSKI
New Bern, NC: Neuse River flooding
11:46 p.m.: Drowning rain and Neuse River flooding inundated roads in New Bern and greater Craven County on Thursday with conditions worsening into the night.
“We’re expecting conditions to continue to deteriorate,” said Amber Parker, the county’s human resources director, on Thursday afternoon.
Before midnight, they had. A map sent out by the City of New Bern showed just how widespread the flooding had become. The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division reported a 10-foot high storm surge above the normal water level at the Cherry Branch Ferry Terminal in Havelock, which is located in Craven County.
“Interactive map showing the high water areas in New Bern so far. Unfortunately this will get worse,” the city’s account tweeted around 9 p.m.
New Bern sits at the intersection of the Neuse and Trent rivers. The map showed the Trent River had overflowed as well. The Neuse flows into the Pamlico Sound, which is separated from the Atlantic by the Outer Banks.
The city said more than 15,000 customers were without power Thursday night. WCTI, New Bern’s ABC affiliate, was forced to evacuate its building Thursday night, a development it noted while giving updates on the weather.
The county issued a mandatory evacuation on Tuesday, Parker said. By Thursday evening, officials were advising people who decided to stay in Craven County to shelter in place.
— LYNN BONNER, CARLI BROSSEAU AND BRIAN MURPHY
Wake Forest, NC: Saving dogs from the storm
11:04 p.m.: Earlier this week Molly Goldston’s Wake Forest dog adoption center, Saving Grace, accepted about two dozen dogs from shelters around the state and amassed a total of 124 — dozens more than it houses in a typical week.
Goldston didn’t know, however, how many of the dogs she’d be able to place in foster care.
“We have a very small facility. It used to be an old farm,” she said of her center, Saving Grace Animals for Adoption, in a telephone interview Thursday. Hurricane Florence is expected to bring devastating floods to eastern North Carolina and cause electrical outages across the state.
“We aren’t set up to take care of them if there’s no power,” Goldston said.
As it turns out, Goldston doesn’t have to worry. People lined up outside her facility on Wednesday night to foster for the weekend all 124 dogs — 100 that were already at Saving Grace and two dozen from other shelters.
Government-run animal shelters often become overcrowded before hurricanes, prompting some to euthanize dogs and cats to make room. In some cases, independent adoption centers are willing to take responsibility for animals that might otherwise be euthanized.
Peak Lab Rescue, an Apex-based Labrador rescue, has 115 dogs in its care this week, its spokeswoman Sharon Gesser said in a phone interview Thursday.
Approximately 42 dogs came from shelters in eastern NC in advance of the hurricane.
— PAUL A. SPECHT
Wilmington, NC: A loud boom
10:30 p.m.: The few guests at Wilmington’s Comfort Inn were startled by a loud boom late Thursday when the transformer box exploded, taking half the hotel’s power and shooting sparks into the night.
As winds topped 30 mph, the guests — nearly all of them hotel employees with homes in low-lying areas — spent the night in the lobby watching sheets of rain fall, entertaining their children and dogs.
As the box exploded, they retreated to their rooms down dark hallways.
— JOSH SHAFFER
Myrtle Beach, SC: ‘We need God’s help’ and other signs on boarded stores
7:30 p.m.: Boarded storefront windows have become the forum for Myrtle Beach business owners to express their feelings toward Hurricane Florence.
“We need God’s help,” reads a few of the panels outside Mona Lisa’s Liquors on South Kings Highway.
That store took a serious turn in its message, though the next few panels read “Spiderman.”
Farther down the highway, Knuckleheads Bar and Grill has a dire warning for anyone that is thinking about criminal activity after the storm passes.
“Looters will be shot,” two panels read.
Off 27th Avenue North, Primo Hoagies takes a lighter tone and uses a phrase seen all over the area “Flo kiss my grits.” The line a reference to Flo on the television show “Alice” and her catchphrase. Another panel tells “Florence back off.”
Finally, The Little White Dress has a message not only for the storm, but for anyone that hunkered down as there is little left to do other than:
— ALEX LANG
Atlantic Beach, NC: Oceanana Pier still holding strong
6:58 p.m.: Chances are, Jeff Harvey, the Atlantic Beach police chief, will not soon forget the name of Hurricane Florence. Its outer bands arrived at Atlantic Beach on Thursday morning, and its wind and rain quickly began to punish this part of the North Carolina coast with a slow-moving, relentless onslaught. This part of the North Carolina coast, farther east than Wilmington and other points to the south, received Florence’s first blow. It was fierce.
Even before sunrise here, ominous waves crashed to the shore. By 10 a.m., the end of the Oceanana Pier had long been swaying, rocking back and forth a few feet each way, every time a powerful wave came crashing through it. Gusts of wind were powerful enough to make sitting in a parked car feel like riding through turbulence in an airplane.
The good news for Atlantic Beach on Thursday, if there was any, is that few people were around to experience Florence’s wrath, which
perhaps arrived earlier than expected. The primary road through town was mostly empty, except for police cars and emergency vehicles that appeared to be on patrol. On the side streets, inside of residential areas, there were few signs that anyone had decided to stay behind to wait the storm out.
Around noon on Thursday, the only people near the Oceanana Pier were journalists, including a local television reporter, a crew from a national cable news outlet and a photographer who worked with a wire service. The photographer aimed a long lens in the direction of the pier, ready to capture the moment if part of it disappeared into the water.
A little after 5 p.m., though, the pier still held strong while the assault continued. Based on the forecast, some might have assumed that conditions wouldn’t deteriorate on Thursday until later in the day. In fact, conditions were bad enough in the early afternoon that local police and the state highway patrol, had abandoned their post at the bridge that carries traffic into Atlantic Beach.
Harvey said that authorities had decided to close that bridge to incoming traffic, and that law enforcement officials would block
vehicles from crossing the bridge. A little after 2 p.m., though, the bridge was empty, and there was no one there to stop anyone who might dare cross it on the way to the beach.
— ANDREW CARTER
Myrtle Beach, SC: One mobile home owner ‘not afraid of hurricanes’
5:28 p.m.: On Thursday, some residents of the small, mobile home community near the Myrtle Beach International Airport remained in their homes as Hurricane Florence targeted the Grand Strand. Others, including Lissette Gomez, evacuated the area, leaving their boarded-up mobile homes behind.
Mobile homes are susceptible to even the lowest hurricane force winds, which can level the structures. Officials urged mobile home to evacuate or move to a shelter.
As the storm approached, Gomez said she planned to wait out the storm at a school shelter. She will drop off her dog at another home before the storm. As for her birds – which sang on her porch as the wind whipped down her road – they wait out the storm from inside the mobile home.
It is not the first time Gomez has been through a hurricane as she lived through Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992.
“Andrew was bad,” she recalled, “this one looks a little different.”
Gomez said she doesn’t think the damage from Hurricane Florence will be severe and hopes her home will make it through the storm. She then let out a wily smile and added,
“I’m used to them, I’m really not afraid of hurricanes.”
— ALEX LANG
Little River, S.C.: ‘I brought booze’
5:12 p.m.: More than a dozen residents of the Country Lakes development in Little River, S.C., ended up at the same Sleep Inn hotel in town, which is designed to withstand high winds and welcomes dogs, making it a popular refuge from a hurricane. They began arriving Wednesday and immediately made plans to gather at 4:30 p.m. daily through the storm for a communal meal.
Thursday, spread across several pushed-together tables was a potluck repast of barbecued ribs with cole slaw, cocktail shrimp and bowls of grapes and fresh tomatoes.
“It’s cocktail hour,” said Mary Coleman. “And we’ll play cards later tonight.”
When asked what she contributed to the meal, Eileen Hill, near the other end of the table, raised her glass.
“I brought booze,” she said.
— MARTHA QUILLIN
Carolinas: More curfews issued
4:47 p.m.: Several cities and towns along the North Carolina and South Carolina coast have issued curfews beginning Thursday evening ahead of the storm. Here’s a list we’ll continue to update:
▪ Southport, N.C.: Begins 7 p.m.
▪ Robeson County, N.C.: 8 p.m., from sunset to sunrise; remains in effect until further notice
▪ Lumberton, N.C.: 8 p.m.-7 a.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday
▪ Greenville, N.C.: 8 p.m.-8 a.m.
▪ Cape Carteret, N.C.: 8 p.m.-1 a.m.
▪ Morehead City, N.C.: dusk to dawn
▪ Emerald Isle, N.C.: dusk to dawn
▪ Atlantic Beach, N.C.: dusk to dawn
▪ Newport, N.C.: dusk to dawn
▪ Beaufort, N.C.: dusk to dawn
▪ Surf City, N.C.: dusk to dawn
▪ Topsail Beach, N.C.: dusk to dawn
▪ Kure Beach, N.C.: 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
▪ Oak Island, N.C.: 6 p.m.-6 a.m.
▪ Folly Beach, S.C.: 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
▪ Hyde County, N.C.: 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
▪ North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: 7 p.m.-7 a.m., remains in effect until further notice
▪ Horry County, S.C.: 7 p.m.-7 a.m., remains in effect until further notice
▪ Little River, S.C.: 7 p.m.
▪ Conway, S.C.: 7 p.m.-7 a.m., remains in effect until further notice
— MARTHA QUILLIN, STEVE LYTTLE, ANN DOSS HELMS
Garden City, SC: A really low tide
4:22 p.m.: Garden City beach has had many faces already today. Early morning saw crowds on the beach and “normal” water/tides. Early afternoon, police were asking surfers to go away & there was no dry sand. Now, the tide is out again and the waves barely crash at all.
— ANNA DOUGLAS
Greenville, NC: City issues curfew
3:47 p.m.: Officials have issued a curfew for “the corporate limits of the City of Greenville” from 8 p.m. Thursday until 8 a.m. Friday, according to the city’s Facebook page.
“The City will continue to evaluate and monitor Hurricane Florence and is likely to extend the curfew if conditions warrant,” the post states.
More information about the curfew is at greenvillenc.gov and on the city’s social media sites. Residents can also call Greenville’s emergency operations information hotline at 252-329-4164.
— JESSACA GIGLIO
North Myrtle Beach, SC: ‘I’d like to wake up in the Bahamas’
3:25 p.m.: Tim and Judy Atkinson and their two dogs, Dogglas, an Australian Shepherd, and Roxie, a miniature teacup chihuahua, plan to stay on their boat at Doc Holiday’s Marina in North Myrtle Beach when the hurricane hits.
The couple, who met in North Myrtle Beach, and said they have lived here “off and on” for many years, also stayed on the boat during Hurricane Matthew.
But their relatives are still worried. Judy’s sister called Tim from Asheville, worried their boat might tip over — but Tim said that wouldn’t be an issue in his 26,000-pound Hatteras named “Just-E-Nuff.”
“I feel safer here than anywhere,” Judy said. “And our dogs are at home here.”
Tim said the boat is tied down to the dock and to a free-standing pole, so the boat “might float” but won’t leave the marina.
“That’s where we disagree,” Judy said. “I’d like to wake up in the Bahamas.”
— HANNAH SMOOT
Calabash, NC: Remembering Hazel
2 p.m.: Mike Long is a second-generation restaurateur in Calabash, the Seafood Capital of the World, on the banks of the Calabash River in Brunswick County. Long doesn’t remember Hurricane Hazel in 1954, but he’s heard about it his whole life because that storm flooded the waterfront, lifting a sailboat from the docks and dropping it 200 feet away.
His aunt ws even lost in Hazel and never found.
Early forecasts suggested Hurricane Florence could be as bad here as Hazel. By Thursday, predictions had become less dire; instead of an earlier-feared 13-foot storm surge, it’s down to 6 feet. But that’s still enough to push water into Captain Nance’s Calabash Seafood Restaurant, started by Long’s mother and stepfather.
“It’s going to be ugly, I’m afraid,” said Long, who stopped by the restaurant Thursday afternoon to pick up some ice.
Even with the tempered forecast, he said, the storm is worrisome because it’s expect to move so slowly that it might drop 20 inches or even 40 inches of rain in some places.
Hurricane Hazel was bad, Long said, “But at least Hazel moved on through. It didn’t sit out here playing a song for us. Florence is going to do a song and dance.”
— MARTHA QUILLIN
Myrtle Beach, SC: The store with staying power
1:33 p.m.: The Publix grocery store at King’s Highway and 82nd Avenue North in Myrtle Beach plans to stay open until 2 p.m. Thursday.
As Hurricane Florence moved slowly toward the coast, the Publix parking lot was about half full and people were calmly gathering last-minute supplies and chatting about the latest forecast.
The store still had pallets of bottled water for sale and were in no danger of running out.
Store manager Bert Grimes said the store will reopen as soon as possible after the storm.
He said most employees had evacuated, but the company had plans to help workers get back to Myrtle Beach and get the store back up and running. He said the store’s mission in the storm is “to serve the community.”
Grimes said the grocery store has enough power from generators to keep the coolers running so they will not lose any perishables.
— CHARLES DUNCAN
Shallotte, NC: Taking no chances
1 p.m.: Sam Hughes made a run to the Inlet View Bar & Grill at the intersection of the Shallotte river and the Intracoastal Waterway outside Shallotte at midday Thursday to load several coolers with ice to take home.
She had already cleared the restaurant’s outdoor decks and dining areas of furniture and decor, and taken family photos off the walls.
Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall somewhere near where the restaurant sits. The storm may not seem as terrible as it was when it was farther out to sea, but Hughes didn’t want to take any chances.
“I don’t want the roof to come off and be sitting at home wishing I had done something.”
— MARTHA QUILLIN
Brunswick County, NC: Open until ‘the well runs dry’
12:20 p.m.: The phone rang — again — at the Village Mart on Village Point Road near the Shallotte River, and Charlie Williams picked it up. Another of his neighbors wanted to know: Are you open?
How long will you stay open?
“Til the well runs dry.”
The store Williams’ family has had outside Shallotte in Brunswick County since he was a kid was one of the only businesses open for miles on Thursday, making it a popular stop. The ice bin outside the front door was empty, but Williams still had gas to sell, for $3.31 per gallon, and honey buns, cold soft drinks and cigarettes.
Williams had covered all the windows at the store with plywood except for the one closest to the cash register. That’s the one with the cheerful “OPEN” sign shining like a red neon beacon.
Traffic was steady at the little store as people thought of the one last thing they’d like to have before Hurricane Florence arrives, bringing high winds and possibly two solid days of rain. Or maybe they just wanted to get out for a bit while there was still a place to go.
Williams wasn’t planning to go anywhere. He and his mother plan to ride out the storm at the Village Mart, as they have done with hurricanes past. A longtime customer stopped in just before noon and offered to bring the pair some air mattresses from her house.
Williams declined. “Mom won’t use one, and I sleep just as well in an office chair as I do in a bed.”
— MARTHA QUILLIN
Myrtle Beach, SC: ‘It’s coming’
11:45 a.m.: Patty Paige had walked down to the beach at 72nd Avenue North in Myrtle Beach on Thursday morning to take a break from preparing for the storm. Her house, just a block back from Ocean Boulevard, is boarded up and she moved her car to a resort parking deck.
“I’m staying,” she said, “I have pets, number one, and I’m a hard head.”
She said she has lived in Myrtle Beach for seven years and stayed in her house through Hurricane Matthew.
“I couldn’t feel it yesterday,” she said as she looked back to the beach, “but it’s coming. I feel it now.”
Along the northern end of Myrtle Beach on Thursday morning, the waves were starting to pick up and the last high tide had clearly come up to the dune line. There were less than a dozen people walking the beach, out to take one more look before Hurricane Florence makes its way into the area late Thursday.
Brett York, 46, lives just off the beach near Grande Dunes. He brought his daughter Alexandria Harlow-York, 22, and her boyfriend, Aaron Williams, 21, down to the beach to watch the waves come in.
York said he did not board his house up for Florence as he had for Matthew. But he does have a generator and water and plans to stick it out. He said about a dozen other people in his neighborhood did not evacuate. “A lot of them are older people,” he added.
York owns York Custom Golf Carts in central Myrtle Beach. He said they cleaned up their shop and made sure everything was secure, but there’s no telling what the storm could bring. “That’s what we pay insurance for,” he said. “It’s in God’s hands now.”
— CHARLES DUNCAN
Atlantic Beach, NC: Eyes on the pier
10 a.m. It was still dark, about a half-hour before sunrise Thursday, when Mike Perry walked onto the sand at Atlantic Beach, toward waves that already looked fierce while Hurricane Florence slowly made its way toward the North Carolina coast. Perry had come to see if he might be able to surf.
He took one long look at the water, folded his arms and shook his head.
“You can’t get out there in this,” he said, while rain began to downpour. In the early morning hours here Thursday, that’s how it went for the Crystal Coast: steady rain, followed by increasing wind, followed by more rain, while the waves rose all the time, the water moving farther and farther inland.
“It was fun surfing yesterday,” said Perry, 49, to a friend named Eli Blake. Now they stood under the cover of an overhang at the back of the Oceanana Restaurant, where Atlantic Beach’s only fishing pier juts into the sea.
Blake, 23, nodded in agreement. He hadn’t come here to surf, he said, but instead just to be here, absorbing the scene in the hours before the arrival of a storm that forecasters say could be among the worst in state history.
“More so just to look,” Blake said, explaining why he had arrived before sunrise to stand where he stood. “Just to see if I remember what the pier is looking like.”
He didn’t know whether he was really worried about the destruction of the pier. He only knew that it was something people joked about, in a dark way, every time especially bad weather approached. And now approached one of the largest storms to come this way in at least the past 75 years.
Perry and Blake are both locals, residents of Morehead City. As Perry left, he told Blake he’d have a place to stay around here if he needed it.
“I’ll paddle over there,” Blake said with a nervous laugh.
The rain stopped for a while, long enough for Joel Sullivan, 30, to walk onto the beach with his three children. The wind was picking up and the waves were crashing with more force, but Sullivan, who also lives in Morehead City, wanted his kids to see this — a storm in its earliest moments of arrival.
“I remember doing this a lot as a little kid,” he said. “I just wanted them to see the power of the waves and everything.”
Sullivan was planning on leaving with his family later on Thursday. They’d head to Goldsboro, he said. On Thursday morning, though, he and his three children — 7-year-old twins and a 5-year-old — stood near the surf while the waves crashed. Sullivan said he recognized the danger of Florence, but that he also wanted his children to appreciate nature’s raw power.
By the time they left, the waves were rising higher. By 10 a.m., some of the tops of the waves reached the floor of the pier. At the end of it, the pier shook while the waves continued to crash, and some of those waves stretched nearly into the Oceanana parking lot. The storm was just beginning.
— ANDREW CARTER
Ocean Isle Beach, NC: No access
9:04 a.m.: There was no access to Ocean Isle Beach on Thursday morning. Police reported that not a single person had stayed on the island.
A state trooper said he thought Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore, who usually pops up ahead of hurricanes, had scared everyone off.
He declined to give his name, only joking that he was “talking smack about Jim Cantore.”
— MARTHA QUILLIN
Wilmington, NC: Iceless but undaunted
8:45 a.m.: All Thursday morning, the ice machine on Kerr Avenue drew a line of customers a dozen deep, all of them holding empty coolers.
Then at 8:45, it finally went empty.
Longtime Wilmington resident Gary Hamm stood pushing a dollar bill into the slot, finally giving up and heading home iceless but undaunted.
“I was born and raised here,” he said, climbing into his pickup. “I ain’t going nowhere.”
— JOSH SHAFFER
Sunset Beach, NC: The mayor’s good example
8:15 a.m.: The pre-dawn air was warm and still at Sunset Beach on Thursday, but by 8 a.m., a breeze began to stir, riffling the yellow caution tape that blocked the entrance to the island’s pier.
By midday, when tropical storm-force winds are expected to arrive, it won’t just look like a hurricane is coming. It will feel like it, for the first time since Florence showed up on weather maps more than a week ago.
A police officer patrolling at Sunset, an island off Brunswick County, estimated that at least 20 residents remained in their beach houses as of Thursday morning, but some were getting ready to leave.
A few planned to take their chances with the storm, which had been downgraded to a Category 2.
“I’m packed and ready to go. I’m just getting a look at everything and taking Joey for one last walk,” said Sunset Beach Mayor Pro Tem Mark Benton, the lone resident on the streets of the island, as he walked his dog.
Benton said he stayed on the island during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, but is leaving this time, in part to set a good example for the citizens he serves.
“Why should I put law enforcement in harm’s way to save me and Joey?” he said.
Benton said Joey has been panting and pacing since Wednesday — an indication that the dog knows something is up.
Benton, who has lived on the island for 15 years, said he installed impact-resistant windows in his house a couple of years ago. They are designed to withstand 140-mph winds.
With the latest forecast, he said, he expects to return to an island that is strewn with debris such as shingles and tree branches. He expects the dunes to be a little lower from high ocean tides, but because Sunset Beach is accreting sand rather than losing it, the dunes will rebuild, he said.
“We’ll weather this one,” he said, “just like we’ve weathered all the others.”
— MARTHA QUILLIN
Atlantic Beach, NC: Heavy morning waves
7:15 a.m.: Near the Atlantic Beach pier, a few surfers looking at Thursday morning’s heavy waves and thought better of surfing.
Nearby, a father brought his children to the beach so they could witness the power of a coming storm before things got too bad.
Roads around Atlantic Beach are empty, and it’s eerily quiet.
— ANDREW CARTER
Wilmington, NC: A plywood plea for prayers
6:45 a.m.: In downtown Wilmington, the few remaining residents waiting for Florence were drawn to the same corner, where a sheet of protective plywood offered this hopeful message: “Pray for Wilmington.”
It is hammered over the front windows of Bourbon Street Bar and Restaurant with three hearts spray-painted in red.
Every news crew and selfie-taker has stopped there.
But the toughest residents who endured Fran and outlasted Floyd shrugged off the call for prayer.
“We’ll be fine,” said longtime resident Joe Pawlick, out walking his Chihuahua, Pinky, at dawn. “This is the highest spot around. This is why they built Wilmington where it is.”
— JOSH SHAFFER
From last night
In case you missed it last night, Andrew Carter had a nice story from Atlantic Beach’s Tackle Box Tavern, which hardly ever closes. But it has now.
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