Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday morning on the North Carolina coast, with its strong winds and blinding rain having already driven dangerous storm surges of several feet into nearby beach and river towns.
The National Hurricane Center said the eye of the storm hit Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, just east of Wilmington, at 7:15 a.m. ET Friday with winds of about 90 miles per hour. The Category 1 storm's winds have weakened in intensity as it neared the coast, but forecasters say the real hazard from the storm will most likely be the rains and flooding as the storm moves southwest into South Carolina before turning north.
Forecasters have warned of "life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding" in North and South Carolina.
Storm surges could reach up to 11 feet, which could cause catastrophic flooding. In its 7 a.m. ET update, the National Hurricane Center said a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently recorded 6.1 feet above normal water levels.
The hurricane arrived more than 10 hours after the storm began beating down on the coastal area, bringing hurricane-force winds and rain. Even before Florence officially made landfall, it had already caused more than 320,000 power outages reported in North Carolina and 4,400 more in South Carolina.
Officials warned those in Florence's path to evacuate, as state infrastructure would not hold up against the winds and flooding.
"Heavy rains and high winds are likely to spread across North Carolina and linger for days," Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference. "As Florence moves inland, we'll see more rain and more flooding from our rivers. And remember that rivers keep on rising even after the rain stops."
"The power is going to go out. It could go out for a number of days, it could go out for weeks. It's very hard to say at this point," Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Brock Long said at a press conference Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, first responders are scrambling to rescue stranded North Carolina residents due to raging flood waters caused by Florence. Officials in New Bern, a coastal town in Craven County, said at least 150 people were "awaiting rescue" early Friday morning as the storm moved near to shore.
Currently ~150 awaiting rescue in New Bern. We have 2 out-of-state FEMA teams here for swift water rescue. More are on the way to help us. WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU. You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU. #FlorenceNC— City of New Bern (@CityofNewBern) September 14, 2018
"More are on the way to help us," New Bern officials tweeted early Friday. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU."