(CNN) — At least five people, including a mother and her infant, have died in North Carolina as Tropical Storm Florence slowly moves from the Tar Heel State into South Carolina, officials said Friday.
After coming ashore in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday afternoon and trudged into South Carolina as night came.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the core of Florence was located at 11 p.m. Friday about 15 miles (20 kilometers) west-northwest of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Top sustained winds are now about 65 mph (100 kph) and the storm is moving to the west-southwest at 5 mph (7 kph) — a track that is expected to continue through early Saturday.
Two people died in Wilmington after a tree fell on their house, the city’s police department said.
“WPD can confirm the first two fatalities of Hurricane #Florence in Wilmington. A mother and infant were killed when a tree fell on their house,” police tweeted Friday afternoon. “The father was transported to (New Hanover Regional Medical Center) with injuries.”
The hospital said it has received three injured patients.
In the town of Hampstead, emergency responders going to a call for cardiac arrest Friday morning found their path blocked by downed trees. When they got to the home, the woman was deceased, Chad McEwen, assistant county manager for Pender County, said.
The fourth person who died was a man in Lenoir County who was hooking up a generator, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said. Another man in the county who was checking on his dogs outside was killed in what his family thought was a wind-related death Friday morning, emergency officials said.
Florence is inching along after making landfall in North Carolina, trapping people in flooded homes and promising days of destruction and human suffering.
Forecasters say catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected over parts of North Carolina and South Carolina ahead.
As Florence moves further inland over the coming days, the storm is expected to gradually weaken. Forecasters say it could become a depression by Saturday night.
Storm surges, punishing winds and rain are turning some towns into rushing rivers — and the storm is expected to crawl over parts of the Carolinas into the weekend, pounding some of the same areas over and over.
Billy Sample, a resident stuck in the town of Carolina Beach, North Carolina, said Friday night: “The height of the storm didn’t feel as bad as it is now. The house is shaking back and forth much more violently than when the eyewall came through.”
Sample said that when he looked outside of his house, which is about 1,000 yards from the beach, he saw the rain pooling up on the street and what looked like storm surge coming up the road.
In the besieged city of New Bern, rescuers had plucked more than 200 people from rising waters by midmorning Friday, but about 150 more had to wait as conditions worsened and a storm surge reached 10 feet, officials said. That number was down to 40 later in the day.
• Florence’s location: By 5 p.m., Florence’s center was about 25 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and was crawling at 3 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
• Prolonged, dangerous winds: Tropical storm-force winds extend 175 miles from Florence’s center. The storm is expected to lumber into far southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina through Saturday, punishing the area with rain and damaging winds.
• Flooding for miles: Up to 40 inches of rain, and storm surges pushing water inland and not allowing rivers to drain, “will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding,” the National Hurricane Center says. “You’re going to have flooding miles and miles inland,” the center’s director, Ken Graham, said.
• Record gusts: Wilmington’s airport recorded a 105-mph wind gust — the fastest measured since Hurricane Helene hit the city in 1958, the National Hurricane Center said.
• Nuclear plant shutdown: A nuclear power plant in Brunswick, North Carolina, shut down operations because of the storm, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Twitter. “Plant procedures call for the reactors to be shut down before the anticipated onset of hurricane-force winds,” agency spokesman Joey Ledford told CNN. Federal officials had said midweek they weren’t concerned about that facility or five other nuclear plants in the storm’s path, calling them “hardened.” Expert scientists, however, had said they were worried about Brunswick because of scant public information about its readiness.
Rescues and narrow escapes
Florence’s rain will bring 40 inches to some parts of the Carolinas, forecasters said. Rainfall totals will be similar to those in hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in 1999, the National Weather Service’s Chris Wamsley said
“The only difference is, back then it was within 14 days,” he said. With Florence, “we’re looking at the same amount of rainfall in three days.”
One of the rescuers in New Bern was Jason Weinmann, a retired Marine who has a military troop transport vehicle he bought at a government auction.
He picked up 10 people on one run and took them to a shelter. Jennifer Morales, 20, said there was 3 feet of water in her home.
“It was pretty bad. We didn’t know where to go,” she said.
Peggy Perry, who was rescued by another group in New Bern, said rising water forced her into the upper level of her home.
“In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest,” said Perry, who was trapped early Friday with three relatives. “We are stuck in the attic.”
Swift-water rescue teams from out of state helped local rescuers evacuate people whenever conditions allowed. One team from Maryland helped with about 40 rescues in New Bern starting Thursday, member Mitchell Rusland said.
Craven County, where New Bern is located, had logged more than 100 service calls from residents trapped on their roofs or in their cars, county spokeswoman Amber Parker said.
In Belhaven, the Pungo River roared into town, crashing up against homes at a waist-high level and higher late Thursday and early Friday, video from Amy Johnson showed.
A terrifying night
In Morehead City, Brooke Kittrell rode out the storm Thursday and Friday with her boyfriend aboard their docked boat, hoping it didn’t break loose and slam something.
She succeeded — staying awake all night, retying broken dock lines in howling winds. But there were times she thought they wouldn’t survive, she told CNN.
“I honestly cried,” Kittrell said. “I was born and raised here and been through every storm the last 30 years, but this one seems to be doing more damage than we expected.”
By Friday morning, the shore was flooded, and buildings were damaged, in video she put up on Facebook.
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, city officials posted photos of toppled gas pumps and a downed trees early Friday, warning residents to take shelter and avoid roadways.
Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.
Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic.