Tropical Storm Michael brings heavy winds, rain, flooding to the Carolinas

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Tropical Storm Michael continues to target eastern North Carolina as it rumbles across the southeastern United States, bringing with it winds, flooding rain and a potential for “life threatening flash flooding,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

Flash flooding early Thursday in Henderson County, just south of Asheville, resulted in “multiple water rescues,” the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office reported at 9 a.m. in a Facebook post. The Associated Press is reporting “20 people were pulled out of neighborhoods inundated by flash flooding.”

In South Carolina, at least 20 people were evacuated from their homes in Columbia Thursday morning because of flooding caused by the storm, according to The State.

The state’s first tornado watch of the day was issued about the same time in the Burgaw/Rocky Mount area of eastern North Carolina. Signs of cloud rotation were spotted on radar in an area that included several miles of Interstate 40, said the National Weather Service.

“Tornadoes will become likely later this morning and midday,” the National Hurricane Center predicted for eastern North Carolina. “Flash flooding will also be possible though the storm’s rapid motion should limit rainfall amounts.”

Tropical Storm Warnings have been issued for all North Carolina counties in a line east of Boone and Asheville. Many of the same counties are also under flash flood warnings.

A Storm Surge Warning of possible rising water and “life-threatening inundation” is in effect for communities on the N.C. coast from Ocracoke Inlet north to Duck. The National Park Service is also warning that portions of NC 12, which connects the state’s barrier islands, could be washed out by the storm surge.

A state of emergency has been declared in both Carolinas, in anticipation of storm-related damage and power outages.

Duke Energy reported more than 100,000 outages for customers in North and South Carolina Thursday afternoon and that number continued to grow. The utility said some of the outages from Michael “could last several days” and anticipated as many as half a million outages across the Carolinas.

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The storm’s track appears to be through Columbia, South Carolina, then to Raleigh, at a speed of about 21 mph, says the National Hurricane Center. Flooding was reported in and around Upstate South Carolina just after dawn, including areas of southbound Interstate 385, near Interstate 85.

Two deaths have been linked to the storm, and people were still trapped in some homes in the Florida Panhandle early Thursday, officials told the Weather Channel.

Hurricane Michael was a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds when it made landfall at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday near Mexico Beach on Florida’s Panhandle.

Wind gusts just under 120 mph were reported in Panama City as the storm moved inland, reported the National Hurricane Center.

More than 900 trees were removed from roadways as Michael rolled through South Carolina, according to the SC Department of Transportation, which said there were 28 road or bridge closures related to the storm. As of 4 p.m., there were 2,327 maintenance employees working in response to Michael.

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs