US coast battered by wind, rain as Hurricane Florence closes in

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WILMINGTON, United States, Sept 14, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Hurricane Florence
battered the Carolinas Friday with howling winds, life-threatening storm
surges and torrential rains as it came to close making landfall in what
officials warned is a once in a lifetime event.

Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the
monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and
dangerous.

Reports said coastal streets in North Carolina were flooded and winds
bent trees to the ground as the storm, which has been downgraded several
times in recent days, weakened and is slower moving than before, prepared to
make landfall Friday.

Nearly 300,000 customers in North Carolina were reported to be without
power as the outer band of the storm approached.

Footage from US TV outlets showed raging waters hitting piers and jettys
and rushing across coastal roads in seaside communities.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami reported “life-threatening storm
surge and hurricane-force winds” along the North Carolina coast.

In its 0900 GMT advisory, the center said Florence was over the Atlantic
Ocean about 25 miles (35 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina and
moving northwest at six miles per hour (10 kilometers per hour).

It added that the maximum sustained winds were 90 miles per hour.
Florence is now at the weakest of five categories on the Saffir-Simpson
scale.

The storm is about to make landfall in North Carolina, the center said.

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 meters) of
flooding, the NHC said.

With winds picking up along the coastline earlier Thursday, federal and
state officials had issued final appeals to residents to get out of the path
of the “once in a lifetime” weather system.

“This storm will bring destruction,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper
said. “Catastrophic effects will be felt.”

In Wilmington, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified,
causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker.

Avair Vereen, 39, took her seven children to a shelter in Conway High
School near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

“We live in a mobile home so we were just like ‘No way,'” she said. “If
we lose the house, oh well, we can get housing.

“But we can’t replace us so we decided to come here.”

– Monster storm surge expected –

Steve Goldstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
said Florence’s forward motion had slowed and it was not expected to make
landfall in the Carolinas until “some time Friday afternoon, Friday evening
or Saturday morning.”

He said hurricane-force winds extended outward 80 miles from the center
of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extended nearly 200 miles out.

Some areas could receive as much as 40 inches (one meter) of rain,
forecasters said.

“This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged
significant river flooding,” the NHC said.

A tornado watch was also in effect for parts of North Carolina.

Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA), warned the danger was not only along the coast: “Inland flooding
kills a lot of people, unfortunately, and that’s what we’re about to see,” he
said.

About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia
are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders and millions of others
live in areas likely to be affected by the storm.

Myrtle Beach, a South Carolina beach resort, was virtually deserted with
empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic.

A state of emergency has been declared in five coastal states — North
Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia.

Duke Energy, a power company in the Carolinas, estimated that one million
to three million customers could lose electricity because of the storm and
that it could take weeks to restore.

– ‘I’m not worried at all’ –

Not everybody was heeding orders to evacuate, however.

Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in
Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather
with his dog Canelo.

“The shelters are not taking dogs,” Ramirez said. “I’m not leaving him
here.

In Wilmington, residents who had decided not to evacuate were lining up
to get ice from a vending machine — $2 for a 16-pound (7.2-kilo) bag.

“I have no generator,” said Petra Langston, a nurse. “I learned from the
past to keep the ice in the washing machine.”

Perched on the porch of his home, carpenter Tony Albright was calmly
awaiting Florence’s arrival, beer in hand.

“I built this house myself, so I’m not worried at all, I know it’s
solid,” he said. “I charged the batteries of my electronic devices, I have
beers and video games.”

“The only thing missing in there is a hot lady.”

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