Latest news: Florence makes landfall in North Carolina
Hurricane Florence crashed into the Carolina coast on Friday, felling trees, dumping nearly three feet of rain on some spots and leading to the death of five people before it was downgraded to a tropical storm still capable of wreaking havoc.
The storm's first casualties included a mother and her baby, who died when a tree fell on their brick house in Wilmington, North Carolina. The child's father was injured and taken to a hospital.
In Pender County, North Carolina, a woman suffered a fatal heart attack; paramedics trying to reach her were blocked by debris. A fourth victim was killed in Lenoir County while plugging in a generator, according to the governor's office. Another woman was also killed although there were no details on the circumstances.
"To those in the storm's path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference in Raleigh, adding that Florence would "continue its violent grind across the state for days."
Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane with 120-mph winds on Thursday, but dropped to Category 1 before coming ashore.
After landfall, Florence slowed to a pace that would see the system likely lingering for days. The National Hurricane Center downgraded it to a tropical storm but said life-threatening storm surges and catastrophic freshwater flooding were expected over portions of North and South Carolina.
The storm surge, water pushed by a storm over land that would normally be dry, "overwhelmed" the town of New Bern at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, Mr Cooper said.
Parts of North and South Carolina were forecast to get as much as 40 inches of rain.
More than 60 people, including many children, were evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds caused parts of the roof to collapse. Many of the evacuees had pets with them.
Maysie Baumgardner, 7, sheltered with her family at the Hotel Ballast in downtown Wilmington as Florence's floodwaters filled the streets. "I'm a little bit scared right now," she said, "but I have my iPad and I'm watching Netflix."
Cooper said Florence was expected to cover almost all of North Carolina in several feet of water.
The centre of the hurricane's eye came ashore at about 7:15 am local time (3.15pm UAE) near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), the National Hurricane Centre said.
By late afternoon, the center of the storm was about 25 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
Authorities in New Bern, a town of about 30,000 people that dates to the early 18th century, said more than 100 people had to be rescued from floods. The downtown area was underwater.
Calls for help multiplied as the wind picked up and tide rolled in, city public information officer Colleen Roberts said.
As Florence closed in, President Donald Trump and state and local officials urged residents in the path of the storm to evacuate. Later, Trump posted a video showing rescue efforts.
Appeals to stay safe came from as far away as space. German astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted pictures of the monster storm taken from the International Space Station along with the warning: "Watch out, America!"
More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm began buffeting the coast, and more than 12,000 were in shelters. Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.
Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it's unclear how many did. The homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
What they say
Forecasters and politicians pleaded with the public to take warnings seriously.
“This storm is a monster. It’s big and it’s vicious. It is an extremely, dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane. The waves and the wind this storm may bring is nothing like you’ve ever seen. Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.” – North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper
“This one really scares me.” – National Hurricane Centre Director Ken Graham
"This storm is going to knock out power, days into weeks. It's going to destroy infrastructure. It's going to destroy homes." – Jeff Byard, an official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency
"We've never seen anything quite like this, on the East Coast at least... I would say everybody should get out... It's going to be really, really bad along the coast. Congress will be very generous, because we have no choice. Any amounts of money, whatever it takes, we're going to do it." – US President Donald Trump
UAE embassy warning
The UAE Embassy in the United States has sent out a safety warning to UAE citizens in the country as the deadly threat of a 'monster' hurricane looms large.
The embassy sent a number of tweets on Wednesday urging UAE citizens on the east coast of the US to stay alert about the dangers of the fast approaching Hurricane Florence.
ATTENTION: UAE citizens in Virginia, North and South Carolina, as #HurricaneFlorence (a category 4 hurricane) approaches,
Long lines formed at service stations, and some as far west as Raleigh ran out of petrol. Bright yellow bags, signs or rags were placed over the pumps to show they were out of service. Some store shelves were picked clean.
"There's no water. There's no juice. There's no canned goods," Kristin Harrington said as she shopped at a Walmart in Wilmington, North Carolina.
In pictures: US East Coast prepares for Hurricane Florence