Hurricane Florence: At least 3 dead as storm brings ‘1,000-year’ rain, catastrophic flooding to North Carolina
(NEW BERN, N.C.) -- Hurricane Florence is pummeling North Carolina, making landfall with life-threatening storm surges and wind gusts.
Authorities have confirmed three storm-related deaths, including a mother and her infant who died after a tree fell on their home in Wilmington, where the storm hit Friday morning with a 105 mph wind gust, the strongest wind in the city since 1958.
A third person died nearby in coastal Pender County, North Carolina, where an official called it a medical fatality but did not elaborate.
Flood conditions will worsen through the relentless rainfall over the next couple days, officials warned.
"The sun rose this morning on an extremely dangerous situation and it’s getting worse,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said, calling Florence a "thousand-year rain event.”
Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous agreed, telling ABC News’ David Muir, "I see a biblical proportion flood event that's going to occur. I see the beach communities' being inundated with water and destruction that will be pretty, pretty epic."
Here's the latest:
As the rough winds toppled trees and power lines Friday, power was knocked out to more than 600,000 North Carolina customers.
More than 30 inches of rain have fallen in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. If confirmed by the National Weather Service, that would break the state record for rainfall from a tropical cyclone.
In Bayboro, North Carolina, one of the areas under evacuation, resident Kim Dunn stayed behind. She was trapped in her truck surrounded by rising water Friday as her boyfriend and his cousin were stranded on a paddle boat less than a mile away.
The water was as high as street signs, and "we have no way to get to them," Dunn told ABC News Friday morning.
"They've been out there for about six hours now just screaming for help," she said. "Only communication we have with them is just me flashing my lights to them and I think they have a flashlight they're flickering back to us."
Dunn, the mother of a 10-month-old, a 3-year-old and an 8-year-old, said she made a decision to stay behind while others fled.
"We were trying to figure out if we had enough finances to get out and if we were to get out, were we going to be able to get back home. So we made a decision to stay," she said. "I don't know how long it's going to be before the water actually starts to come into the apartment."
In nearby New Bern, where water levels reached at least 10 feet overnight, 150 people requested a rescue. Volunteers are using private boats to pitch in and help, city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts said.
The downtown area, at the confluence of two rivers, is mostly underwater.
New Bern resident George Zaytoun chose not to evacuate and is trapped inside his home.
"It’s like a bomb has gone off," Zaytoun told "Good Morning America" Friday. "Everything around us is underwater."
Zaytoun now regrets his decision, he said.
"I think we kind of let our guards down," he said of his community’s response to the storm’s being downgraded to Category 2 from 4.
Florence "is twice the size of Hurricane Hugo," which tore through the Carolinas in 1989, New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw told "GMA."
Gov. Cooper said Friday, “As soon as it is safe, first responders will make sure they go and rescue people who need to be saved from this storm.”
Some people were arrested for breaking into cars as Hurricane Florence approached North Carolina Thursday night, Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram told ABC Wilmington affiliate WWAY-TV.
"If you seek to prey upon the citizens of Brunswick County, we're going to do everything we can to lock you up," Ingram warned. "I made sure ahead of time that we had adequate space for anybody that wanted to try that."
The rainfall is forecast to reach up to 40 inches in some areas over the next several days.
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. River flooding may be worse than Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
"We are expecting several more days of rain and our focus now is getting people away from immediate danger and then we will shift to putting our communities back together,” Cooper said Friday.
“I know North Carolinians. We’re going to make it through this because we’re going to stick together and we’re going to work together.”
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