Hurricane Florence: What storm surge could look like on East Coast

Hurricane Florence: Hundreds in New Bern awaiting rescue from 'catastrophic' storm surge

Its implacable advance threatens as much as $20 billion in damage, a toll that likely will unfold through the weekend.

North Carolina Gov Roy Cooper called Florence an "uninvited brute" that could wipe out entire communities as it grinds its way across land. The storm was once a powerful Category 4 storm but became a slow-moving Category 1 storm when it made landfall near Wrightsville, North Carolina, on Friday.

Hurricane Florence, traveling toward the United States with sustained winds of up to 105 miles per hour, has started to hit the North Carolina coast.

Buildings were torn apart by 90mph winds and hundreds of people were trapped by high water as the Category 1 storm settled in for what could be an extraordinarily destructive drenching.

A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house, according to a tweet from Wilmington police. Also, a 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, Lenoir County authorities said, and the governor's office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain.

Sadie Marie Holt, among those rescued from the hard-hit town, said she stuck behind for a doctor's appointment that was later cancelled.

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He said hurricane-force winds extend outward 80 miles (130 kms) from the center of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extend almost 200 miles (322 kms) out.

In Belhaven, an enclave in far eastern North Carolina, the Pungo River nearly reached the second floor of buildings as the storm moved in, according to video posted on the website of The News & Observer.

Meteorologist Ryan Maue, of weathermodels.com calculated, that 34 million people in the USA could get at least 3in of rain from Florence, with more than 5.7 million people probably receiving at least a foot.

Forecasters said conditions will deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.

Utility companies are predicting power outages that could reach between one-to-three million across both North and SC for days and possibly weeks.

As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that Fema and first responders are "supplied and ready", and he disputed the official conclusion that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad.

Environmental groups are preparing to inspect waterways for toxic spills from coal-ash ponds and hog lagoons once the storm subsides.

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Approximately 7,000 people fleeing the storm have taken shelter at 108 shelters open across the state.

"There's a very real possibility of another coal-ash spill, " said Matthew Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper at Sound Rivers, an advocacy group.

The surge will result in "large areas of deep inundation. enhanced by battering waves", the Weather Service said.

This wind speed fell slightly from the previous update, but the Hurricane Center said the storm's presentation on radar and satellite had "improved" and that slight strengthening was possible as the storm moved over some warmer waters through this evening.

As the storm ground inexorably east, residents did what they had to. "This storm will bring destruction to North Carolina", Gov. Cooper warned. El Super Taco was locked and the video store was empty.

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety said they will begin to close the reverted routes on I-26 at 6 p.m. Thursday.

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