(By Jonathan Drew, AP)

Hurricane Florence already has inundated coastal streets with ocean water and left tens of thousands without power, and forecasters say that “catastrophic” freshwater flooding is expected over portions of the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence inches closer to the U.S. East Coast…

The National Hurricane Center said early Friday that Florence’s eyewall is beginning to approach the North Carolina coast bringing with it life-threatening storm surge.

The centre said that a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently reported 6.3 feet (1.92 meters) of inundation. Emerald Isle is about 84 miles (135 kilometres) north of Wilmington.

Screaming winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence’s leading edge whipped the Carolina coast Thursday to begin an onslaught that could last for days, leaving a wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising seas.

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The storm’s intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to around 90 mph (144 kph) by nightfall. But that, combined with the storm’s slowing forward movement and heavy rains, had Gov. Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster.

“The worst of the storm is not yet here but these are early warnings of the days to come,” he said. “Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience.”

Cooper requested additional federal disaster assistance in anticipation of what his office called “historic major damage” across the state.

Emmett West pulls his boat from a nearby marina to secure it at his home ahead Hurricane Florence in Morehead City, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

80,000 already without power

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.

Prisoners were affected, too. North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centres in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities.

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.

Spanish moss waved in the trees as the winds picked up in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City. Ocean water flowed between homes and on to streets on the Outer Banks; waves crashed against wooden fishing piers.

Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia

As of 2 a.m., Florence was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina. Its forward movement increased slightly to 6 mph (9 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended 90 miles (150 kilometres) from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometres).

A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves nearly 30 feet (9 meters) high as Florence churned toward shore.

Forecasters said conditions will deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland. Its

Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph (225 kph), the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.

Epic damage

Forecasters said that given the storm’s size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during

The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year.

As Florence drew near,

Not everyone was taking Florence too seriously: About two dozen locals gathered Thursday night behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington.

“We’ll operate without power; we have candles. And you don’t need power to sling booze,” said owner Eli Ellsworth.

Others were at home hoping for the best.

“This is our only home. We have two boats and all our worldly possessions,” said Susan Patchkofsky, who refused her family’s pleas to evacuate and stayed at Emerald Isle with her husband. “We have a safe basement and generator that comes on automatically. We chose to hunker down.”

Union Point Park is flooded with rising water from the Neuse and Trent Rivers in New Bern, N.C., Sept. 13, 2018, as Hurricane Florence brings heavy rains, storm surges and high winds to the region. (Gray Whitley / Sun Journal via AP)
Workers cover the windows of the historic Charleston County Courthouse in Charleston, S.C., in preparation for the advancing Hurricane Florence Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Emmett West pulls his boat from a nearby marina to secure it at his home ahead Hurricane Florence in Morehead City, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Rob Muller boards up his home as a satellite image of Hurricane Florence is broadcast on a television inside in Morehead City, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
The bronze statue of Neptune stands with the sunrise behind, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Virginia Beach, Va., as Hurricane Florence moves towards eastern shore. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Andrew Lingle walks along the beach at sunrise as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast in Atlantic Beach, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
President Donald Trump looks at a short showing potential rainfall totals from Hurricane Florence during a briefing in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Police cars block the Ashley Phosphate Road exit ramp off Interstate 26 in North Charleston, S.C., as both sides of the highway flow westbound toward Columbia, S.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in preparation for Hurricane Florence. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
This image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence, third from right, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, as it threatens the U.S. East Coast. At right is Hurricane Helene, and second from right is Tropical Storm Isaac. (NOAA via AP)
People drive over a drawbridge in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., as they evacuate the area in advance of Hurricane Florence, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Michael and Polly Long walk down East Bay St. past a sign asking for Hurricane Florence to spare the Lowcountry in Charleston, S.C., as Hurricane Florence spins out in the Atlantic ocean Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
With most people off work and it looking like the Charleston, S.C., area will be spared from destructive winds many people biked to Dunleavy’s Pub, one of the few open restaurants, on Sullivan’s Island, S.C., as Hurricane Florence spins out in the Atlantic ocean Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
A bike rider makes her way down East Bay St. past a sign asking for Hurricane Florence to spare the Lowcountry in Charleston, S.C., as Hurricane Florence spins out in the Atlantic ocean Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

Author: ANA Newswire