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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.
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.”
Charlotte-based Duke had posted roughly 59,300 outages in Carteret, Craven, Pamlico, Onslow and New Hanover counties, while the co-ops listed nearly 72,000 outages in the same general area. Municipal power agencies are reporting few outages, except New Bern, which had 17,755 customers without power, according to ElectriCities, the organization that supports the local power agencies.
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.
Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Energy, which provides power in the northeastern corner of North Carolina, was reporting nearly 700 scattered outages.
Several million people could lose power by the time Florence sloshes its way through the state. The storm was a dangerous Category 4 hurricane Wednesday but was downgraded Thursday night to a Category 1 storm. It was still considered dangerous with potential for strong winds and hazardous flooding.
Duke has said it could take several weeks to fully restore power in areas that are inaccessible due to flooding. The company said as many as three-fourths of its 4 million customers in North Carolina and South Carolina could lose power.
This story will be updated.