The Wilmington Police Department confirmed the death of a mother and her baby after a tree fell on top of their home. The child’s father was transported to New Hanover Regional Medical Center with several wounds.
A spokeswoman for Pender County, also in North Carolina, said another woman died of an unspecified health problem after calling emergency services, but they could not assist her because three fallen trees blocked the road.
According to local media, the woman had suffered a heart attack. The hurricane, which downgraded to category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson scale of five, remains very dangerous, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned.
At a time when rescuers were struggling to rescue people trapped in their homes, amid strong winds and debris-filled waters, authorities reported the first victims.
“The storm is wreaking havoc,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, noting that half a million people are without electricity in the state, which has a population of 10 million, and that river levels “will rise for days.
These are the first recorded deaths from Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. The cyclone is expected to cross the Carolinas over the weekend before continuing northward.
Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina at 7:15 a.m. (local time) with maximum sustained winds of 150 km/h, announced the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The impact of the hurricane was preceded by violent gusts of wind that began to hit the area from 5:00 a.m. (local time), also projecting torrents of water in all directions, which caused the blasting of debris and traffic signs.
The port city of Wilmington, in North Carolina, woke up to the sound of several detonations, possibly electrical transformers that exploded, according to a local AFP reporter.
The hurricane continues to be very dangerous despite having been downgraded to category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson scale which goes up to 5, the NHC warned.
The storm will cause dangerous swells on Friday and hurricane winds will continue along the coast of the Carolinas, where large floods are expected, according to the report.
Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has warned the population to take the cyclone seriously even though it was downgraded. The director of FEMA urged not to let down his guard “just because the wind speed slowed down.
Meanwhile, Steve Goldstein, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), warned that “there will be an increase in water level of 1.8 to 2.7 meters.
Hurricane winds were also felt in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which was virtually deserted. Some residents ignored calls to evacuate. Jeff Cunningham decided to stay in his boat, moored at the North Myrtle Beach marina.
“For 20 years, I stayed in every hurricane; it’s not going to be too big,” he told AFP Thursday night. “I have everything I need, 200 gallons of water, a generator. This is the best place,” he added.
As in many other coastal towns, authorities urged evacuation on Tuesday and imposed a curfew. For those who were unable or unwilling to leave, several shelters were opened.
At a shelter near Myrtle Beach, 71-year-old Rebecca Cheledlik says she’s happy to meet new people. “It’s like a party to me, I live alone so this looks like a vacation to me,” she says smiling.
A team of Cajun Navy volunteers traveled from Louisiana, which suffered severe flooding in 2016, to care for potential Florence victims.
“Let’s help people in boats, we make shipments, we help,” Rob Gaudet, one of Cajun Navy’s founders in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s southern capital, told AFP.
Evacuation orders reached an estimated 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia who made their way Wednesday to shelter from the storm.
Five states declared a state of emergency: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia, in addition to the capital Washington.
The heavy rains generated by Florence will last several hours on the coast and then extend inland. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), some 4.9 million people will suffer more than 250 mm of rainfall in the next four days.
Brock Long warned that “inland flooding can be lethal and will occur. “There will be infrastructure damage, and power outages that could last for days or even weeks,” he added.
Duke Energy, an electric company in the two Carolinas, estimated that about three million customers will be left without electricity because of the storm and it could take up to a week to restore service.