Forecasters say “it cannot be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard posed by the slow-moving storm is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland.” Officials also have confirmed the hurricane’s first known fatalities.
BY THE NUMBERS
—Storm deaths: 4 fatalities confirmed
—Intensity: Florence came ashore with top winds of 90 mph (145 kph), below the 111 mph (178 kph) threshold for a “major” hurricane but still extremely dangerous. It was downgraded Friday afternoon to a tropical storm with winds of 70 mph (110 kph) before its core slogged into coastal South Carolina hours later.
—Still big: tropical-force winds extending out up to 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the center.
—Heavy rains: Up to 18 trillion gallons falling on seven states over seven days, as much water as there is the entire Chesapeake Bay
—So far: roughly 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain have fallen north of Swansboro, North Carolina, and it’s only going to get worse—Storm surge: up to 13 feet (nearly 4 meters), and seawaters could push inland 2 miles (more than 3 kilometers), depending on how long Florence lingers
—Stalled: Florence was nearly at a standstill Friday afternoon, moving at just 3 mph (6 kph)
—In the dark: about 890,000 outages, mostly in North Carolina, as of Friday evening, with Duke Energy anticipating 1 million to 3 million homes and businesses losing power
—Protected: More than 19,000 people in shelters in North Carolina, 6,400 in South Carolina and 400 in Virginia
—Populated coastline: 11 million Americans live in areas that were under storm watches and warnings
—Grounded: nearly 2,400 flights canceled
—Potential losses: estimated $10 billion to $60 billion in economic damages
—Rescued: more than 400 people needed help in high waters in New Bern and Jacksonville, North Carolina
FACES OF FLORENCE
Images captured by Associated Press journalists show last-minute preparations to secure homes and businesses and families settling into storm shelters as rain and storm surge began.
Police in Wilmington, North Carolina, tweeted that a mother and infant died when a tree fell on their house; the baby’s father was injured. Officials also said one person was electrocuted in Lenoir County while plugging in a generator in the rain, and a man died after being blown to the ground while checking on his hunting dogs.
Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the Philippines, ripping off tin roof sheets and knocking out power in an agricultural region of flood-prone rice plains and landslide-prone mountain provinces. In the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores could get gusty winds and heavy rains from Tropical Storm Helene this weekend, while Isaac regained tropical storm strength after earlier weakening in the Caribbean Sea.
Picture the entire state of Texas covered with roughly 4 inches (10 centimeters) of water: that’s Florence’s rainfall forecast over a week. Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com estimates Florence could dump about 18 trillion gallons (68 trillion liters) of rain. That’s still less than the 25 trillion gallons (95 trillion liters) Hurricane Harvey dropped last year in Texas and Louisiana.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up a “rumor control” website to quash false information in Florence’s wake. The page says service animals aren’t barred from evacuation shelters, beaches shouldn’t be used for sand bags, and evacuation orders aren’t enforced by FEMA. It also responds to criticism about money diverted from FEMA to federal immigration authorities.
If Florence doesn’t wipe out oceanfront homes on stilts along the Carolinas coast, rising sea levels will . Florence lashed low-lying barrier islands that experience some of the fastest rates of sea level rise observed anywhere in the world, nearly an inch (2.5 centimeters) a year.
The city of New Bern, North Carolina , reported more than 1,200 911 calls in a 12-hour span, and roughly 4,300 residences and 300 commercial buildings damaged. That count is expected to rise significantly.
TO THE RESCUE
“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU” — that’s what the city of New Bern, North Carolina, tweeted after hundreds of people needed rescue from rising waters from the Neuse River, and a TV station had to evacuate its newsroom in the middle of its hurricane coverage. The National Weather Service measured storm surge in New Bern at 10 feet (3 meters) deep.
THE POWER OF WATER
Scientists can’t say — yet — that climate change helped make Florence worse. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster due to human-caused warming. Sea level rise also adds to storm surge damage : When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, a study found sea-level rise over the 20th century caused more than $2 billion in additional damage in New York City due to the “extra” storm surge it generated.
ESCAPING TO FLORIDA
Hurricanes usually drive people away from Florida, but Florence is making the Sunshine State into a refuge for people from the Carolinas. Cruise ships have diverted to Florida away from the storm’s path, and some hotels are offering special discounts for evacuees. What could be better than riding out a hurricane at Walt Disney World ?