HURRICANE FLORENCE | UPDATE Florence drenches the Carolinas


WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Hurricane Florence rolled ashore in North Carolina with howling 90 mph winds and terrifying storm surge early today, splintering buildings and trapping hundreds of people in high water as it settled in for what could be a long and extraordinarily destructive drenching.

More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing cinderblock motel. Hundreds more were rescued elsewhere from rising water. Others could only wait and hope someone would come for them.

"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU," the city of New Bern tweeted about 2 a.m. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU."

As the giant, 400-mile-wide hurricane pounded away, it unloaded heavy rain, flattened trees, chewed up roads and knocked out power to more than 600,000 homes and businesses.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths.

The biggest danger, as forecasters saw it, was not the wind but the water: the storm surge along the coastline and the prospect of 1 to 3½ feet of rain over the next several days that could trigger catastrophic flooding in a slow-motion disaster well inland.

By early afternoon, Florence's winds had weakened to 75 mph, just barely a hurricane and well below the storm's terrifying Category 4 peak of 140 mph earlier in the week.

But the hurricane had slowed to a crawl as it traced the North Carolina-South Carolina shoreline, drenching coastal communities for hours on end.

The town of Oriental had received more than 18 inches of rain just a few hours into the deluge, while Surf City had 14 inches and it was still coming down.

"Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. "It's an uninvited brute who doesn't want to leave."

Cooper said the hurricane was "wreaking havoc" on the coast and could wipe out entire communities as it makes its "violent grind across our state for days." He said parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges – the bulge of seawater pushed ashore by the hurricane – as high as 10 feet.

11:27 a.m.

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Forecasters say the center of Hurricane Florence is hovering just inland near Cape Fear, N.C.

It remains a Category 1 hurricane with top sustained winds of 80 mph, but stronger wind gusts have been reported.

At 11 a.m., Florence was centered about 20 miles southwest of Wilmington, N.C., and about 55 miles east-northeast of Myrtle Beach, S.C. It was crawling west-southwest at 3 mph, lifting huge amounts of ocean moisture and dumping it far from the coast.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles.

9:27 p.m.

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Forecasters say the eye of Hurricane Florence is wobbling slowly southwestward just off the coast of southeastern North Carolina, near the border with South Carolina.

The hurricane's top sustained winds have dropped to 85 mph, while it moves slowly toward South Carolina at 6 mph.

At 9 a.m. the center of the hurricane was about 55 miles east of Myrtle Beach.

Earlier, Energy Secretary Rick Perry says the U.S. electricity sector has been well prepared for Florence even as hundreds of thousands of homes lose power in the storm.

Speaking during a visit to Moscow less than an hour after the hurricane made landfall in North Carolina, Perry says "we've done this many times before. We know how to manage expectations. We know how to prepare our plants for these types of major events."

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