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This story was updated at 5 p.m. ET
Florence was downgraded from a category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update.
The storm dropped to sustained winds of 70 mph. A category 1 hurricane must have winds of at least 74 mph.
The “erratic” storm made landfall Friday morning near Wrightsville Beach, as North Carolina first responders and the governor reported the first four deaths associated with the storm.
Wilmington police reported that a tree fell on a house, killing a mother and her child. Pender County Emergency Management reported that a woman died of a heart attack when emergency crews couldn’t reach her because of fallen trees.
“Two people in Lenoir County were killed: a 78-year-old Kinston man who was electrocuted when connecting extension cords in the rain and a 77-year-old man who was blown down by the wind when he went to check on his hunting dogs,” The News & Observer reported.
“Torrential” rains are expected to continue, the National Hurricane Center said as of its 3 p.m. update, and “catastrophic” freshwater flooding is expected over parts of North and South Carolina.
The storm was expected to dump 20 or more inches of rain in coastal cities, the NHC reported.
At noon Friday, the storm’s eye was “wobbling slowly along the coast” where it made a turn west. “An erratic motion between westward and west-southwestward is likely today,” said the NHC.
Meanwhile, storm surge, rising rivers and heavy rain have lead to reports of widespread flooding along the coast, including a 10-foot rise in North Carolina’s Neuse River, which has endangered at least 150 people stranded in New Bern.
“I see a biblical proportion flood event that’s going to occur,” Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous told ABC News. “I see the beach communities being inundated with water and destruction that will be pretty, pretty epic in nature.”
“Florence will then move generally northward across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week,” the NHC said.
When did Florence make landfall?
Florence officially made landfall at 7:15 a.m. ET near Wrightsville Beach, according to the National Hurricane Center. The first of the rain and wind gusts from Florence rolled ashore just before dawn Thursday at Morehead City, a Carteret County town that is expected to get 20 to 25 inches of rain in the next three days. Isolated spots could see 30 to 40 inches of rain,” says the NHC.
How many are without power?
Almost 500,000 people in North Carolina were without power as of 9:33 a.m., according to a tweet from NC Emergency Management. “The top counties affected are Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender,” according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
In South Carolina, SCE&G reported no outages as of 11 p.m., but the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina said there were 276 power outages in Georgetown County — near Myrtle Beach — and 1,747 outages in Horry County.
Where is there flooding?
Roads in New Bern and greater Craven County were hit by rain and flooding from the Neuse River. A gauge where the Trent and Neuse rivers meet in New Bern recorded 10.1 feet of flooding about midnight.
Craven County emergency officials “reported rescuing multiple residents from Hurricane Florence floodwaters through the early morning Friday,” even though residents were ordered to evacuate on Tuesday, The Herald-Sun reported.
The City of New Bern said crews were working to get to 150 people awaiting rescue as of early Friday morning.
“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” the city said in a tweet. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”
Johnston County asked residents in low-lying and flood-prone areas to get to higher ground. a Shelter was open at Clayton High School.
The Cherry Branch Ferry Terminal on the Neuse River near Havelock is seeing a storm surge of 10 feet above normal levels, according to the NHC.
N.C. 12 is closed on Hatteras Island and parts of U.S. 70 are shut down between Beaufort and Atlantic, as floodwaters covered the pavement, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
N.C. 55 was closed in Apex as water flooded the road, police said.
The National Weather Service is forecasting record Cape Fear River flooding in Pender and Duplin counties early next week, with the water reaching about 24 feet, or 11 feet above flood stage.
The threat of freshwater flooding will increase in the coming days, according to the NHC. “Heavy and excessive rainfall” could cause “catastrophic flash flooding” in both Carolinas, as some areas are forecast to receive 20 to 30 inches of rain, and isolated spots of 40 inches.
What about tornadoes?
“Almost all tropical cyclones making landfall in the United States spawn at least one tornado, provided enough of the tropical cyclones circulation moves over land,” a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
Radar showed a half-dozen tornadoes in eastern and southeastern North Carolina on Thursday, the National Weather Service reported. Much of the North Carolina coast has been under a tornado watch since Thursday morning.
The NHC said more tornadoes are possible in “eastern and southeastern North Carolina through Friday.”