WILMINGTON, N.C. – Slow-moving Hurricane Florence made landfall early Friday in North Carolina, bringing strong winds, heavy rain and the threat of record flooding at late-morning high-tide along the North and South Carolina coast.
The National Hurricane Center said Florence went ashore near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at 7:15 a.m. EST with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph.
Forecasters warned of “catastrophic” freshwater flooding along waterways far from the coast of the Carolinas.
Seventy people had to be pulled from a collapsing hotel at the height of the storm, and many more who defied evacuation orders were hoping to be rescued.
More than 372,000 customers people were without power in North Carolina as the eye of Hurricane Florence went ashore near Wilmington and began its slow trek southward along the coast.
As the storm moves inland, the surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.
The National Hurricane Center said a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, reported 6.3 feet of inundation. In New Bern about 150 people waited for rescued from floods on the Neuse River. The city said two teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were working on water rescues and more were on the way.
“Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience.” Gov. Roy Cooper warned, describing day after day of disastrous weather to come.
Although the storm was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane late Thursday with 90 mph winds, hurricane officials still warned that it has plenty of punch to wreak havoc, mainly from sustained high water.
“Strength, track and forward speed of Florence will be the major players in determining the scope and amount of rainfall and correspondingly the severity of inland flooding,” AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said.
Tracker: Follow Hurricane Florence’s path
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Authorities are advising residents who have not evacuated to go to the highest point in their homes, call 911 for help, keep their cell batteries charged as best they can and wait for help to arrive.
The National Weather Service office in Newport, North Carolina in a tweet called the storm surge “catastrophic.”
Contributing: Joey Gill, USA TODAY NETWORK