Body surfer Andrew Vanotteren, of Savannah, Ga., crashes into waves from Hurricane Florence, Wednesday, Sept., 12, 2018, on the south beach of Tybee Island, Ga. Vanotteren and his friend Bailey Gaddis said the waves have gotten bigger and better every evening as the storm approaches. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Wind and rain from Hurricane Florence’s leading edge lash Carolinas

Forecasters warn that the widening storm — and its likelihood of lingering around the coast day after day — will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours.

The outer bands of wind and rain from a weakened but still lethal Hurricane Florence began lashing North Carolina on Thursday as the monster storm moved in for a prolonged and potentially catastrophic drenching along the Southeast coast.

Florence’s winds had dropped from a peak of 140 mph (225 kph) to 105 mph (165 kph) by midmorning, reducing the hurricane from a terrifying Category 4 to a 2. But forecasters warned that the widening storm — and its likelihood of lingering around the coast day after day — will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours.

“It truly is really about the whole size of this storm,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. “The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact — and we have that.”

As of 11 a.m. EDT, Florence was centred about 145 miles (230 kilometres) southeast of Wilmington, its forward movement slowed to 10 mph (17 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 kilometres) from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometres).

Forecasters said Florence’s eye could come ashore early Friday around the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Then it is likely to hover along the coast Saturday, pushing up to 13 feet (nearly 4 metres) of storm surge and unloading water on both states.

By midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington. On North Carolina’s Outer Banks, water flowed through streets and between beachfront homes, and some of the few people still left in Nags Head took photos of angry waves topped with white froth.

The forecast calls for as much as 40 inches (102 centimetres) of rain over seven days along the coast, with the deluge continuing even as the centre of the storm pushes its way over the Appalachian Mountains.

The result could be what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farms and industrial sites.

Related: Time nearly up: Fierce Hurricane Florence aims at Southeast

Related: Thousands of Canadians in path of extreme storms: Global Affairs Canada

Related: VIDEO: ‘Monster’ Hurricane Florence aims to drench Carolinas

The police chief of a barrier island in Florence’s bulls’-eye said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave.

“I’m not going to put our personnel in harm’s way, especially for people that we’ve already told to evacuate,” Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to remain alert despite changing forecasts.

“Don’t relax, don’t get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality,” he said.

About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 mph (160 kph), but that’s still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind does.

Scientists said it is too soon to say what role, if any, global warming played in the storm. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster because of human-caused climate change.

It’s unclear exactly how many people fled ahead of the storm, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.

Airlines cancelled about 1,200 flights and counting, and some airports in the Carolinas virtually shut down. Home Depot and Lowe’s activated emergency response centres and sent in around 1,100 trucks to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm.

Duke Energy, the nation’s No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm’s aftermath, it said.

Florence’s weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who worried that the storm could still be deadly.

Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that has since been downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a hotel in Wilmington several miles inland.

“Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated,” he said. “I’ve got four cats inside the house. If I can’t get back in a week, after awhile they might turn on each other or trash the place.”

___

Jeffrey Collins reported from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington; Jennifer Kay in Miami; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina; Jeff Martin in Hampton, Georgia; David Koeing in Dallas; Gerry Broome at Nags Head, North Carolina; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.

___

Jonathan Drew And Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Just Posted

Pacific Northern Gas moves to reinstate full capacity and expand pipeline

Increased supply and demand could mean lower rates for North Coast customers, PNG says

CN train derailment cleared between Terrace and Prince Rupert

The CN mainline is now open, following a train derailment mid-way between… Continue reading

Kitimat’s BC Hydro substation receives a massive upgrade

It will cost $82 million to ensure that LNG Canada has enough… Continue reading

Comment requested for Kitimat LNG’s expansion plans

Company says radical redesign means additional export is possible

Haisla Nation Council appoints Stewart, Renwick

Two recently elected Haisla Nation councillors, Kevin Stewart and Arthur Renwick, have… Continue reading

VIDEO: Young couple found dead in northern B.C. had been shot, police say

Chynna Noelle Deese of the U.S. and Lucas Robertson Fowler of Australia were found along Highway 97

Family of missing B.C. senior with dementia frustrated with situation, heartened by community support

Nine days since Grace was last seen the question remains: ‘How can an 86-year-old just disappear?’

Unsealed record suggests U.S. man convicted of murdering Vancouver Island couple left DNA on zip tie in 1987

William Talbott is set to be sentenced Wednesday in the murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg

Surrey court clerk files human rights complaint related to concussion

Deborah A. Ryane claims her employer discriminated against her on basis of mental disability

Coast Tsimshian sign historic stewardship agreement

Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla plan to work as one to preserve traditional lands

Food fight: Liberals, Tories trade shots as pre-campaign battles intensify

Health Canada released an overhauled document that did away with traditional food groups and portion sizes

Okanagan Air Cadet challenges gender-exclusive haircut policy

Haircut regulation inspires challenge around gender identity

VIDEO: Bystander training gains traction as tool to prevent sexual harassment, violence

Julia Gartley was sexually assaulted after an event, and no one stepped in to help

Two brands of ice cream sandwiches recalled due to presence of metal

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a recall on Iceberg and Originale Augustin brands

Most Read