Florence weakens to tropical storm, leaves at least five dead

Park flooded with rising water

Park flooded with rising water

The centre of the hurricane's eye came ashore at about 7:15am (local time) near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina, with sustained winds of 150kph, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

Rescue workers in North Carolina meanwhile were scrambling to save people stranded in their homes.

The National Hurricane Center downgraded it to a tropical storm on Friday, but warned that life-threatening storm surges - in which water is pushed by a storm over land that would normally be dry - catastrophic freshwater flooding were still expected.

North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons, enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimeters).

Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it's unclear how many did.

Florence's rain will bring 40 inches to some parts of the Carolinas, forecasters said. "We've been watching trees being torn down and our backyard fence get ripped apart all morning from the winds", Cellucci said, describing what she's seen the category storm due just around her own property.

The NHC said Hurricane-force winds extended outward 80 miles (130 kms) from the center of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extended almost 195 miles (315 kms) out. Significant weakening is expected over the weekend.

Storm surge could be as high as 11 feet in parts of North Carolina, prompting officials to closely watch the rise of rivers in the eastern part of the state.

In the besieged city of New Bern, rescuers had plucked more than 200 people from rising waters by midmorning, but about 150 more had to wait as conditions worsened and a storm surge reached 10 feet, officials said.

Video footage showed parking lots in the riverfront town of New Bern turn into shallow lakes of dirty gray water as heavy rain fell.

The state's transportation secretary, James Trogdon, said the state may see "flood events" that normally only occur once every 1,000 years.

Governor Cooper said half a million customers in North Carolina were without power and it could take weeks for it to be fully restored.

At the Wilmington airport, the wind was measured at 105 miles per hour - the highest since 1958, Cooper said.

A 68-year-old man and his wife died in a house fire in Cumberland County, NC on Friday, according to a release from the NC State Emergency Response team. "Our meteorologists are saying that the rainfall amounts will be devastating in certain areas", he said Thursday.

Winds of up to 110km/h are also expected for several days as the weather system slowly grinds over.

Duke Energy reported about 6,200 customers were without power in the Charlotte area by 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

A fatal collision on Saturday morning left two injured and one dead in Georgetown County, SC.

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