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15 September 2018, 01:32 | Justin Tyler
Hurricane Florence Hits Near Wrightsville Beach
Having punished the Carolinas with winds, heavy rains and record flooding, Hurricane Florence was downgraded Friday afternoon to a tropical storm, still packing a punch with 70 miles per hour winds. Gradual weakening is expected throughout the day Friday, with significant weakening predicted over the weekend.
Forecasters said Florence's surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet (3.4 meters) of sea water. Parts of the Carolinas could see 50 cm to 76 cm, with isolated areas getting 101 cm, over seven days along the coast.
As rescuers battled strong winds and debris-filled floodwaters to pluck hundreds of stranded people from their homes, officials confirmed at least three deaths from the monster storm, while U.S. media reported a fourth.
The NHC said the greatest threats to life came from storm-surges while "catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding" was expected.
Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm by the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) but authorities warned the danger was far from over. Hurricane-force winds extended 90 miles (150 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometers).
In a display of the early effects of the storm, one flood gauge on the Neuse River in New Bern, North Carolina, showed 10 feet (three metres) of flooding, the NHC said. Traffic lights out of order because of power failures swayed in the gusty wind.
Since midnight, peak wind gusts reached 32 miles per hour in Raleigh and 47 miles per hour in Fayetteville.
Airlines canceled more than 2,100 flights through Sunday. "But I think we're ready".
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.
One resident, restaurant owner Tom Ballance, told the Associated Press he now thinks he should have evacuated.
Still, he said: "I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth".
The wind howled and sheets of rain splattered against windows of a hotel before dawn in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the power failed. Numerous evacuees took their pets.
"We're in God's hands", said Rick Foreman, pastor at West Lumberton Baptist Church, as the Lumber River steadily rose Friday and local residents filled sandbags.
Yesterday, the European Space Agency released a short video of astronauts aboard the space station watching the storm out of the cupola armed with powerful cameras to capture its giant knot of storm clouds.