Hurricane Florence Storm Surge Floods North Carolina, Knocks Out Power

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"Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials..."

"But with conditions with the way they are, there are some area where it's just not safe to perform rescues", Parker says. The Army Corps of Engineers were preparing to start work restoring power, installing temporary roofing and removing debris.

Hurricane Florence began lashing the North Carolina coast on Thursday, with heavy surf pounding the Outer Banks and barrier islands, winds shredding flags, and a storm surge pushing seawater over some beaches and past oceanfront homes.

The now Category 1 storm's intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to 90 miles per hour (135 kph) by nightfall.

Air Force General Terrence J O'Shaughnessy, head of US Command, said search and rescue is a top priority but that the magnitude of the storm may exceed the ability of rescuers.

He was said to be one of the last members of the team to stay behind to keep residents "up to date" on Hurricane Florence.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths.

As of 11 p.m., the storm was centered 280 miles (455 kilometers) east southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and was moving northwest at 17 mph (28 kph). Forecasters said catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected well inland over the next few days as Florence crawls across the Carolinas.

Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but then reconsidered.

The National Hurricane Center described Florence's path as a wobble around southeastern North Carolina.

It was set to inundate nearly all of North Carolina in several feet of water, State Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference, while National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear predicted up to eight months of rain in two or three days.

Officials found a basketball-sized hole in the hotel wall and other life-threatening damage, with some cinder blocks crumbling and parts of the roof collapsing.

The water "is as high as it's ever been, and waves are breaking on my point, which is normally grass", said Copeland, a freelance photographer for The Associated Press.

Around midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City. "Nothing's hit the house yet, but it's still blowing".

Wind and the tidal surge will be the biggest issues for airports in the coastal Carolinas as the storm hits, FlightAware spokeswoman Sara Orsi said.

Farther up the coast, in New Bern, about 150 people waited to be rescued from floods on the Neuse River, WXII-TV reported.

Millions of people could lose power across North and SC.

"A lot of our storefronts are boarded up", said Lynn Davis, town manager for Belhaven which sits at sea level in northeastern North Carolina.

Cooper also announced there are 2,800 National Guard troops in different staging areas of North Carolina.

It's unclear exactly how many people evacuated, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.

Forecasters said wind speeds have dropped from a high of 140 miles per hour to 110 miles per hour, reducing it from a Category 4 storm to a Category 2, and additional fluctuations and weakening were likely as it swirled toward land.

The latest predictions also show that, while Florence will pack less powerful winds, it will also slow down, allowing it to drop much more rain on the Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender county areas.

He said electric power could be out for weeks.

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