Hurricane Florence makes landfall in North Carolina, slamming state with 'life-threatening' rainfall

Hurricane Florence continued sweeping across part of the southeastern United States on Friday, bringing powerful winds along with warnings of “life-threatening” storm surge and rainfall, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm made landfall in North Carolina shortly after 7 a.m., the center said.

Collapsed roofs and other structures were already reported in the Morehead City and New Bern areas of North Carolina. New Bern was particularly hard hit, with reports of more than 100 people stranded in their homes in need of rescue. The large and dangerous storm is expected to keep battering parts of North and South Carolina on Friday. Follow Hurricane Florence’s projected path here.

8 a.m.: More than 400,000 without power in North Carolina

North Carolina state officials reported Friday morning that more than 400,000 customers were facing power outages this morning, a number that is likely to increase as the storm’s winds continue to tear at trees and power lines. Outage maps provided by Duke Energy showed that more than a quarter of them were concentrated in two areas on the state’s coast: one around the Wilmington region, the other around Morehead City.

— Mark Berman

7:39 a.m.: Florence makes landfall in North Carolina

Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., at 7:15 a.m. on Friday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm hit with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph.

In a bulletin Friday morning, the hurricane center reported that the “center of the eye of Hurricane Florence finally makes landfall,” following the storm’s slow, grinding approach to the Southeastern coast.

— Mark Berman

Friday 6:00 a.m.: Florence eyewall is onshore. Center of storm due shortly for landfall near Wilmington, as hundreds of thousands lose power. 

The National Weather Service reports that slow-moving Hurricane Florence is moving onto shore and headed toward Wilmington, N.C. The eyewall of Florence is already onshore, according to the National Hurricane Center, and the storm’s center is currently about 10 miles east of Wilmington and about 80 miles north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Gusts of up to 70 miles per hour have been recorded nearby in Topsail Beach, N.C.

Meanwhile, as many as 321,692 households in North Carolina currently lack power, the state’s emergency management department says.

The already high water levels are expected to rise even higher as the tide comes in, and flash flood warnings continue for Wilmington, Washington, Riverbend, and Vanceboro, N.C.

Friday 5:00 a.m.: Dire warning issued as Florence nears landfall

With Hurricane Florence about to make landfall, the National Hurricane Center predicted only a gradual decrease in the storm’s intensity during the day ahead.

“It cannot be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard associated with slow-moving Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland through the weekend,” the latest update warned.

As of 5 a.m., the hurricane was turning westward and traveling at a speed of roughly 6 miles per hour. Over the next two to three days, it should gradually turn toward the northwest.

Antonia Farzan

Friday 4:45 a.m.:  People stranded on roofs and trapped in cars as eyewall nears coast

After slapping the coast overnight with powerful wind and dumping inches of rain, the outer bands of Hurricane Florence continued to push inland. At 4:00 a.m., the National Weather Service released an update on the storm, noting Florence’s eyewall was beginning to reach the coast.

“The water levels in Pamlico Sound and Emerald Isle remain elevated,” the update noted. “These waters are expected to rise as the tides come back in. A USGA gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently recorded 6.6 feet of inundation.”

On the ground, the situation remains serious as floodwaters continued to swallow up residential areas.

The Craven County emergency operations center has received over 100 calls from people who have been trapped in cars or who have water coming into their homes, spokeswoman Amber Parker said. Some area residents are currently trapped on roofs waiting for swift rescue teams to arrive as the area continues to experience extreme flooding, storm surge, and high winds. With a curfew in place until 8 a.m. and many roads in the area closed, people who are experiencing flooding in their homes have little other choice but to wait for help to arrive.

New Bern is the largest city in Craven County and has been experiencing serious flooding, but many of the calls have also been coming in from unincorporated areas of the county, she said. Rescue operations are currently underway.

Parker noted that county officials had offered free transportation to emergency shelters located in Sanford, further inland, and that 107 people had taken the opportunity to get away from the coast. Another 839 people had arrived at shelters located in Craven County by 1 a.m., she said.

The emergency operations center in New Bern where Parker is based experienced some flooding earlier in the night, but only in the lobby area, she said. Emergency operations staff were unaffected, but are expecting to see plenty of damage when the sun comes up.

“Everyone’s certainly hoping for the best, but we do have a more flooding and storm surge ahead of us,” Parker said.

As of 4:19 a.m., National Weather Service stations in Fort Macon and near the New River inlet had both recorded gusts topping 100 mph. ABC reports that over 194,000 people are currently without power.

This is our garage floor. Where all the good junk everybody wants lives. . It’s toast.

Posted by Amy Powell Johnson on Thursday, September 13, 2018

— Kyle Swenson and Antonia Farzan

Friday 3:00 a.m.: Wind gusts of 99 mph 

At 3:00 a.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center released an update on Hurricane Florence showing increased winds battering the North Carolina coast.

According to the latest release, a station at Fort Macon, N.C., recently documented a sustained wind of 73 mph and a wind gust of 99 mph. A station at Cape Lookout, N.C., registered a sustained wind of 75 mph while also notching a gust at 90 mph.

— Kyle Swenson 

Friday 3:00 a.m.: Storm bears down on North Carolina’s second-oldest city  

As wind and water continued to pound the North Carolina coast Friday morning, one of the region’s most historically significant towns took a direct blow from Hurricane Florence.

New Bern, the state’s second-oldest city, sits where the Trent River pours into the Neuse River. That location made the town an important early settlement throughout the colonial period — but also today leaves it open to dangerous weather. Early Friday the city announced emergency crews were already embarking on high water rescues as 150 residents awaited help. As of 2:00 am, a USGS substation located in New Bern measured a water level of nearly 10 feet — double the readings at any surrounding location. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for a swath of coastal North Carolina — including New Bern — until 8:30 am.

The swelling water threatens a significant chunk of local history. According to the city’s website, New Bern has more than 150 sites and 36 individual listings included on the National Registry of Historic Places, including grand houses, churches, and cemeteries.

The first Europeans to bed down in the area were Swiss and Germans led by Baron Christopher de Graffenried in 1710. The baron named the new settled after his home city back in Switzerland. Under British rule, New Bern was made the colony’s capital in 1770.

The city was also an important chess piece during the Civil War, falling into Union occupation following a battle in 1862. Two years later, the city was the scene of a horrific yellow fever epidemic, according to a history published by the University of North Carolina.

New Bern greatest impact on the global scene was arguably as the birthplace of Pepsi. According to the university’s history, in 1898, a pharmacist named Caleb Bradham created the concoction — known as “Bred’s Drink” — to help stomach digestion. Financial duress forced Bradham to sell off the recipe in 1920.

Now it’s popular and picturesque southern town that draws thousands of tourists.

— Kyle Swenson 

Friday  2:30 a.m.: Intense flooding continues in New Bern as 150 people await rescue.

At 2:00 a.m., Hurricane Florence was located 35 miles east of Wilmington, N.C., with sustained winds reaching up to 90 miles per hour. As the hurricane continued to slowly make its way over the North Carolina coast, it appeared that the town of New Bern was getting the worst of the flooding.

New Bern city officials announced on Twitter that roughly 150 people are currently awaiting rescue. Two out-of-state FEMA teams are currently assisting with the process and others are on the way to help with the emergency response, the statement said.

A gauge in the Trent River near U.S. Highway 70 in New Bern recorded 9.78 feet of inundation, the highest in the region. At Bogue Sound near North Carolina Highway 58 in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, more than 9 inches of rain had fallen in the past 6 hours, and water levels had risen by over 5 feet.

On MSNBC, New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw said that as many as 14,000 people in the town currently lack power. There have been “quite a few” water rescues, he said.

Across North Carolina, 185,312 people are currently without power, the state’s department of emergency management said. Carteret, Onslow and Craven counties, which are located on the southeastern coast, have reported the most outages.

In Onslow Bay, waves over 18 feet high were recorded by the National Data Buoy Center.

Earlier in the evening, meteorologists and reporters at NewsChannel 12 in New Bern, North Carolina were evacuated from the station due to rising waters. “When the conditions in the area intensified suddenly, we made the call to have our news staff evacuate the area and team up with our sister station WPDE in Myrtle Beach to continue covering the storm and providing our viewers with vital, potentially life-saving, information,” General Manager Matt Bowman said in a statement.

WRAL reporter Adam Owens captured floodwater pouring into the Craven County Emergency Services Building in New Bern, where operations staff and first responders are based during the storm. The emergency operations officials were still operating as normal, he wrote.

‪Flood water is getting into the Craven County Emergency Services Building in New Bern. Despite that, emergency officials are still able to operate inside. #WRAL #Florence #ncwx‬

Posted by WRAL Adam Owens on Thursday, September 13, 2018

— Antonia Farzan

Friday 1:20 a.m.:

As Hurricane Florence continues to batter coastal North Carolina, local communities are already reporting rescues as water levels continue to climb. On Facebook, the City of New Bern announced early Friday local police and fire and rescue teams are currently “conducting high water rescues throughout the city.”

The city also announced Trent Park Elementary School is serving as a location for “those needing to get evacuated.”

According to an update from the National Weather Service at 1:00 am, a gauge on the Neuse River at New Bern recently measured 10.1 feet of inundation. The new reading indicates a rise over the course of the night: at 12:00 am, the NWS reported 9.6 feet of inundation at New Bern.

— Kyle Swenson 

Friday 12:30 a.m.: Intense flooding threatens the Carolina coast. 

By midnight, areas of coastal North Carolina were experiencing life-threatening storm surge, the National Weather Service said. Multiple flash flood warnings were in place, affecting the cities of Wilmington and Rocky Point as well as communities along the state’s southeastern coast.

Sustained winds of 71 mph and gusts up to 87 mph have been recorded at Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Water levels along the Neuse River in New Bern have risen by nearly 10 feet.

— Antonia Farzan

Thursday 11:00 p.m.: Florence downgraded to Category 1 hurricane. 

As residents of the Carolinas hunkered down for the night, the National Hurricane Center continued to warn of life-threatening storm surge and hurricane conditions, but downgraded the storm to a Category 1 hurricane as top winds lessened to 90 mph. Along the Neuse River in Morehead City, North Carolina, storm surge of 10 feet was reported by the National Weather Service. The combination of the storm surge and rainfall up to 20 inches could have disastrous effects on the coastline.

Over 150,000 households in North Carolina have already lost power, according to the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management. Meanwhile, communities along the Pamlico and Pungo Rivers in eastern North Carolina are already experiencing significant flooding, National Weather Service officials said.

— Antonia Farzan

Thursday 9:19 p.m.: Why people chose this shelter to survive Florence

Thursday 9:11 p.m.: Riding out the storm at an extended stay hotel

At the Extended Stay America in Midtown Savannah, evacuee Jason Medero stops by the front desk to get a dish strainer.

Medero, his wife, 15-month-old child and two dogs left Wilmington, N.C., ahead of Hurricane Florence.

“We knew we were getting out early enough and weren’t worried,” Medero said.

Updates from the National Hurricane Center today show Savannah is now out of the cone of uncertainty as Florence pushes north.

“For a 12-hour period yesterday I was nervous when it showed it was swinging south,” Medero said.

He and his family plan on hanging out with his two brothers that reside here and visiting Savannah’s historic district and Tybee Island Beach.

“We would of stayed [in Wilmington] if it wasn’t for our two dogs and 15-month-old,” Medero said.

The general manager of the hotel, Felinda Johnson, said they have gotten 15 cases of water, flashlights and perishables just in case the hurricane switches course again.

“We’ve had a lot of bookings from evacuees, but also a lot of cancellations,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of transient people leave due to being afraid even though we aren’t in the cone.”

“It’s been a roller coaster,” said front desk clerk Lauren Muse.

Around 6 p.m. Kirsti Meeuwse, her husband and their Shih Tzu returned to the extended stay after picking up some groceries from a local store.

“We evacuated this morning,” Meeuwse said. “We held off because we weren’t sure how bad it was going to be.”

Meeuwse and her husband evacuated from Charleston, S.C., which they’ve called home for 30 years.

“We told ourselves after Hurricane Hugo we would never ride out a hurricane again,” Meeuwse said.

She and her husband decided to come to Savannah after the projections showed hazardous weather conditions reaching areas in S.C. where relatives live.

“It’s the closest to Charleston that we would be safe,” Meeuwse said. “Anything here would not nearly be what we would get if we stayed home.”

Asha Gilbert

Thursday 8:32 p.m.: Evacuating couple get a warm welcome in South Carolina. Their dog does, too.

Floyd and Sharon Maloney left their North Charleston home Thursday and found shelter at Friendship Baptist Church in Belvedere, S.C., just a few miles east of Augusta, Ga.

They also brought their dog, Lucy, who was welcomed with open arms as well.

“The weather was nice when we left down there — no rain or anything — but we didn’t want to wait,” Sharon said. The Maloneys live near the Ashley River and were most concerned about flooding.

They texted their daughter, Kristina, who is in Guinea serving in the Peace Corps, to let her know not to worry.

“She texted back and asked how the dog was doing,” Sharon said. Heyward Horton, pastor of Friendship since it started in 1965 in a tent across the street from its current sanctuary, said the church opened its doors during Hurricane Irma last year, housing just a few families.

This year, it is prepared for 120 to 150 people, but on Thursday it seemed unlikely that many would come. A weakened Florence is still expected to swamp Charleston and Myrtle Beach but appeared likely to take a sharp turn inland, probably causing some residents south of Charleston to consider riding it out.

Todd Glover, city administrator of North Augusta, S.C., which sits across the Savannah River from Augusta, Ga., said natural evacuation pathways probably sent most of the Charleston traffic to Columbia and most of Myrtle Beach’s evacuees to Charlotte.

Florence will bring 30 mph wind and 2-5 inches of rain to Augusta and North Augusta by Sunday, Glover said. “We’ve had larger rain events, but the wind is expected to stay strong for 48 hours, and that’s a bigger concern,” he said.

James Folker

Thursday 8:02 p.m.: District’s state of emergency order rescinded 

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser rescinded her state of emergency order on Thursday evening as the chances of Florence having a major impact on the capital decreased. The District had declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, along with Virginia and Maryland, ahead of the storm.

Adam Mowder

Thursday 6:52 p.m.: Forecasts say nearly 5 million people will be impacted by significant rain

Dire forecasts continue about the impact Hurricane Florence will have, including for a significant swath of the Carolinas. The National Weather Service reported Thursday afternoon that it expected nearly 5 million people to be impacted by at least 10 inches of rainfall in the coming days — with some impact stretching out far to the south, north and west of those spots.

— Mark Berman

Thursday 6:50 p.m.: “We’re already seeing that rapid rise”

MIAMI — It may have dropped in strength, but Hurricane Florence is in every other way behaving as expected: a huge, slow-moving, very rainy storm that is already pushing sea waters many feet above normal onto the beaches of North Carolina.

Even well before the storm was predicted to make landfall somewhere in the Carolinas, the potent threat of a dangerous storm surge was beginning to materialize.

“We’re already seeing that rapid rise,” said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center. “The storm surge we were worried about is already starting to occur.”

Storm surge will likely continue to swamp beaches in the Carolinas throughout the weekend, even Rappaport said, as Florence moves slowly moves over the area an crawls inland. Ken Graham, the hurricane center’s director, said river flooding far inland may last a week or more. Graham said the stretch of tropical storm winds out 170 miles from the center of Florence is “staggering,” but the wind is not nearly the worst of it.

“This storm is not about the wind,” Graham said. “It’s the higher water levels. The concern is the impact of all that water piling up.”

— Lori Rozsa

Thursday 6:44 p.m.: Seeking sanctuary at a “mega-shelter”

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Many coastal residents decided to take no chances, traveling to shelter far away from the brunt of the storm. Latoya Lavan and her young sons Micah and Christopher left their home in Jacksonville, N.C., on Wednesday night and drove to the state’s first “mega-shelter” at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the American Red Cross opened a shelter for up to 1,000 evacuees that night.

“I was worried, because I was hearing that the surge could be 25 feet high,” Lavan said. “I was going to stay and try to go to a shelter there. There was supposed to be four shelters and then I found out they were not going to open them because they weren’t going to be strong enough to withstand the conditions. I thought, ‘If they’re not strong enough, my house isn’t going to be strong enough,’ so I decided to go.”

Her father is in staying in Jacksonville and her brother plans to stay put in Wilmington.

“I tried to get them to leave, but they’re going to stay there and weather it,” Lavan said.

Her family shared the floor of the coliseum where the Wake Forest Demon Deacons play their home basketball games with other evacuees. It’s not fancy, she said, “but they had everything we needed. It’s better than being in Jacksonville trying to hunker down and weather the storm when it’s going to be obvious devastation.”

In an adjacent building, a kennel has been set up for any pets arriving with the evacuees.

— Kirk Ross

5:53 p.m.: Inside an emergency operations center

Thursday 5:12 p.m.: Pentagon says it has “quite literally surrounded” areas in the forecast zone

Senior defense officials provided an update Thursday on the Pentagon’s preparations for storm response.

Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, who heads U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and Kenneth Rapuano, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, said that about 7,000 service members, including 4,000 National Guard personnel, were positioned for the storm, and thousands more were prepared to deploy if needed.

They said the military had made sites including Fort Bragg, N.C., available to FEMA as staging areas for relief equipment and had put helicopters and high-wheeled vehicles at the ready in different sites in the Southeast for search and rescue use. Ships including the USS Kearsarge are at sea trailing the storm and will move toward shore to further support emergency response.

“We have quite literally surrounded the expected affected area” with relief supplies and response assets, O’Shaughnessy said. Other aircraft that were moved out of the impact area ahead of the storm will  return once the immediate danger has passed, and could contribute to the response. O’Shaughnessy said the military was taking steps to ensure that it could move quickly once requests from state and local authorities are made.

The officials said that authorities at military facilities in the Southeast had made decisions about whether personnel should remain or evacuate and were taking steps to ensure the safety of troops and their families.

— Missy Ryan

Thursday 4:50 p.m.: People need to be patient, FEMA warns 

Federal officials said Thursday that people living in the zone of Hurricane Florence’s impact should be patient, knowing that it may take time to respond to problems caused by the storm. FEMA administrator William “Brock” Long, during a news briefing, emphasized that people should know that it will take time for some areas to recover after Florence hits.

“This is a very dangerous storm,” he said. “We call them disasters because they break things. The infrastructure’s going to break, the power’s going to go out . . . but we are going to do everything that we can to push forward as quickly as we can to get things back up and working.”

Long vowed that officials stood ready to work together in responding to the storm.

“We are truly prepositioned as best we can be based on what we know,” Long said.

— Mark Berman

Thursday 4:25 p.m.: Nuclear power plants to close 

Duke Energy said it would close a pair of nuclear power reactors at its Brunswick plant  on the Cape Fear River about four miles from Southport, N.C. Together, the units produce 1,870 megawatts.

The company said its procedures required closing the plants when facing a sustained period of 75 mph winds, even though the plants were designed to withstand winds of more than 200 mph. The units are  20 feet above sea level, said Rita Sipe, a company spokeswoman. She said they were designed to withstand a storm surge of 22 feet.

— Steven Mufson

Thursday 4:20 p.m.: “This is going to be about the water anyway.”

Steve Goldstein of the National Weather Service, at an afternoon briefing at FEMA headquarters, advised people in the path of the storm “not to get too hung up on the fact that it weakened from a category 4 to a category 2 because all the water that was already pushed out when it was a category 4 is already on its way.”

“That storm surge of 9 to 12 feet is coming. … The rainfall is definitely coming and is definitely going to occur,” he said. “This is going to be about the water anyway.”

He said that when Florence makes landfall, probably late Friday somewhere near the border between North and South Carolina, “it’s going to sit and not move very much. Between 8 o’clock Friday night and 8 o’clock Saturday morning it’s going to show very little movement.”

— Joel Achenbach 

More to read:

Nursing homes rush to move the elderly and ill away from the hurricane’s path

City by city forecasts for Hurricane Florence

Shelter in hurricane’s path warns it will euthanize animals if it can’t find people to adopt them

Track Hurricane Florence

Capital Weather Gang’s latest forecast

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