WILMINGTON, N. C. — Forecasters say the center of Hurricane Florence is hovering just inland near Cape Fear, North Carolina.
Downgraded from a 2 yesterday, it remains a Category 1 hurricane with top sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), but stronger wind gusts have been reported.
At 11 a.m., Florence was centered about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 55 miles (90 kilometers) east-northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was crawling west-southwest at 3 mph (6kph), lifting huge amounts of ocean moisture and dumping it far from the coast.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles (110 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles (315 km), downing trees and knocking down power lines as The Associated Press photo of a Wilmington, North Carolina, neighborhood shows above.
Earlier, rising water forced a North Carolina TV station to evacuate its newsroom in the middle of Hurricane Florence coverage.
Hours before the storm made landfall Friday, workers at New Bern’s WCTI-TV NewsChannel 12 had to abandon their studio.
A spokesperson for the ABC affiliate said roads around the building were flooding.
The weather service measured a storm surge 10 feet deep in the city, which lies on the Neuse River near the Atlantic coast. It’s about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Wrightsville Beach, where Florence made landfall at 7:15 a.m. Friday.
Video posted on Twitter showed a meteorologist telling viewers they’d be taken to coverage from sister station WPDE in Myrtle Beach.
Just after midnight, the station tweeted that everyone had safely evacuated.
Rainfall also is swelling waterways: Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com calculated that 34 million people in the U.S. are forecast to get at least 3 inches of rain from Hurricane Florence, with more than 5.7 million people probably getting at least a foot of rain.
In Washington, North Carolina, the wind-swept Pamlico River has risen beyond its banks and is flooding entire neighborhoods. Floodwaters submerged U.S. Highway 264, cutting off a major route to other flood-prone areas along the river and the adjacent Pamlico Sound.
Downtown New Bern, on the Neuse River also is flooded. The city tweeted early Friday that 150 people were awaiting rescue.
Meanwhile, federal officials are urging anyone who ignored orders to evacuate from Hurricane Florence to hunker down and stay put until the storm passes.
And they say people who are truly in an emergency should call 911, not just Tweet about it.
The disaster area was expected to get about as much rain in three days as the 1999 Dennis and Floyd storms dropped in two weeks.
About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed, with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats. The Army Corps of Engineers were preparing to start work restoring power, installing temporary roofing and removing debris.
Charley English of the American Red Cross said anyone wondering how to help from afar can donate blood, registering first at their local Red Cross websites.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry says the U.S. electricity sector has been well prepared for Hurricane Florence even as hundreds of thousands of homes lose power in the storm.
Speaking during a visit to Moscow less than an hour after the hurricane made landfall in North Carolina, Perry says, “we’ve done this many times before. We know how to manage expectations. We know how to prepare our plants for these types of major events.”
Perry says his department has been in contact with power companies and gas pipeline operators. He says that “over the years the state government and the federal government have become very coordinated in their ability to manage the pre-deployment of assets [and] the response to the citizens of those states, and we will soon be into the recovery.”
More than 415,000 homes and businesses were without power, mostly in North Carolina, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the nation’s electrical grid.