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Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, early Friday morning, as the Category 1 storm battered the coast with hurricane-force winds and heavy rains that officials warned could trigger catastrophic floods.
The National Hurricane Center said Florence’s eyewall made landfall at about 7:15 a.m. with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph.
The hurricane’s weakened, but still powerful winds pushed a life-threatening storm surge miles inland and, combined with a persistent pelting rain, severely damaged buildings.
HURRICANE FLORENCE’S PATH: TRACK THE STORM HERE
Forecasters said the terrifying onslaught would last for several hours, because Florence was barely moving along and still drawing energy from the ocean.
The USGS said the tide in Emerald Isle, N.C. was 7 feet above sea level, while coastal streets flowed with frothy ocean water. More than 455,000 people had already lost power by 8:30 a.m.
Nearly 46 miles farther up the waterfront, in New Bern, about 150 people were waiting to be rescued from floods on the Neuse River, WXII-TV reported.
Forecasters said conditions will continue to deteriorate as the storm creeps inland. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph, the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to seek shelter and stay alert.
“Don’t relax, don’t get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality,” Cooper said.
Soon after the Florence made landfall, President Trump touted the work from FEMA and first responders.
“Incredible job being done by FEMA, First Responders, Law Enforcement and all. Thank you!” he wrote.
COMPLETE COVERAGE OF HURRICANE FLORENCE
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.
In Jacksonville, N.C., about 70 occupants – including an infant, other children, and pets – were evacuated from the Triangle Motor Inn after hurricane-force winds collapsed portions of the hotel’s roof. The evacuees were taken to the Jacksonville Center for Public Safety while authorities searched for more permanent quarters during the storm. Jacksonville is about 60 miles northeast of Wilmington.
Forecasters said that given the storm’s size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang
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