As the eye of Hurricane Florence advanced close to the North Carolina coast early Friday, the devastating toll had already begun, with lifesaving water rescues underway and local officials reporting major structural damage and power outages.
The hurricane’s effects are expected to worsen as storm surges rise as high as 11 feet, while rainfall up to 40 inches is expected to bring widespread inland flooding.
Here are the latest developments:
• The storm, which was downgraded to Category 1 late Thursday, was about 10 miles east of Wilmington, N.C., at 6 a.m. on Friday, with sustained winds at 90 miles per hour. Track the storm’s location here.
• About 150 people awaited rescue early Friday in the riverfront city of New Bern, N.C. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” the city wrote on Twitter.
• More than 288,000 people have lost power in North Carolina, while officials in Onslow County reported “major structural damage to homes, businesses and institutions” by midnight Friday.
• Florence is proving to be a lumbering giant, crawling along the coastline as it dumps rain across the Carolinas. Anxiety is high in towns as far inland as Greenville, N.C., where residents braced for the one-two-punch of rain and storm surge. Read more about the expected floods here.
• More than 4,500 people had checked into shelters in South Carolina, and the authorities said they had space for more than 34,000 across 64 shelters. North Carolina had opened 126 shelters for about 12,000 people, and is trying to open more. Here’s what it’s like inside.
• We asked readers living in Florence’s projected path what they’re doing for the storm. Read about their experiences.
Government and military officials prepare to respond
Brock Long, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday that the federal government had staged resources and personnel in states along the Eastern Seaboard to help quickly after the storm.
FEMA workers were focused on helping the state and local authorities prepare, he said. But as the storm pushes through, the agency will shift its focus to identifying infrastructure damage and work to restore services.
“The infrastructure is going to break. The power is going to go out,” Mr. Long said at a news conference. “We need people to get their mind-sets right that disasters are very frustrating and that it takes time to get the infrastructure back and running. We will move as quickly as we can to get back up.”
The National Guard has readied about 4,000 soldiers and airmen, with more than 10 states mobilizing support. Air Force and Army helicopters were standing by for search-and-rescue operations and evacuations.
A bad day for a wedding
Hurricane season coincides with wedding season, which means a lot of cancellations and thwarted plans this week in the Carolinas. Some couples, like Leah Chesney and Brandon Frick, managed to move their ceremonies up, holding their beach wedding on the Outer Banks a few days earlier than planned.
Deborah Sawyer, a veteran wedding planner and photographer in the Outer Banks, said that she always counsels couples considering a late-summer or early fall ceremony to get wedding insurance. Oceanfront homes used as event venues in the area generally offer renter’s insurance that covers storms.
Carter Loetz and Esther Walsh were relieved that they got insurance. They live in Charlotte, N.C., and had been planning a 130-person wedding in Charleston, S.C., for a year.
It was scheduled for Saturday. Now they’re considering new décor and outfits: Their new date is Nov. 30, and the summery garden party they had planned won’t quite work. They have also added a menu item.
“We will definitely be serving hurricanes as the specialty cocktail,” Mr. Loetz said.
Is this the last time we’ll get a Hurricane Florence?
We’ll never see a Hurricane Harvey again. Or an Irma, Maria or Nate, for that matter.
After last year’s hurricane season from hell, those four names were permanently scratched from the list that forecasters use to designate tropical cyclones.
Hurricane Florence, if it meets expectations, looks as if it could be a slam dunk to join the list of retired names, which happens when the World Meteorological Organization judges that “a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity.”
The current system for naming tropical cyclones has been around since 1979. Names for storms in the Atlantic are drawn from a different list than those for storms in the Eastern Pacific. The names are selected to be “familiar to the people in each region,” according to the meteorological organization.