North Carolina • Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, battering the region with water and wind, threatening to unleash widespread destruction and stranding some people.
The Category 1 storm carried maximum sustained winds of 90 miles an hour, menacing the coast with life-threatening storm surges and heavy rains. Landfall occurred at 7:15 a.m., the National Hurricane Center said. Rivers in the region are already reaching toward flood stage, with warnings in place throughout the Carolinas, according to the National Weather Service. The service also warned of potential of tornadoes.
"It is a very dangerous situation; it is a very life-threatening situation," Ken Graham, National Hurricane Center director, said in an online presentation.
About 150 people were awaiting rescue from rising waters, the City of New Bern, North Carolina, said on its Twitter account, advising those affected to move to an attic or second story for safety. About 377,000 power customers in North and South Carolina have been affected by outages, according to utility websites. As many as 3 million may eventually be in the dark for days or even weeks.
The storm surge is forecast to reach a deadly 11-feet (3.4-meter) in some parts of the state. The slow-moving hurricane could drench parts of the Carolinas with as much as 40 inches of rain, producing catastrophic flash flooding, the hurricane center has said.
"This will be one of the worst storm surge events likely in North Carolina's history," said Peter Mullinax, a meteorologist at Planalytics.
The total bill for damage from Florence could eventually reach $10 billion to $20 billion, said Chuck Watson, a disaster researcher at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. Hundreds of thousands of people have evacuated the coast, more than 1,500 U.S. flights have been canceled, factories have been shut and farmers have rushed to save livestock and crops from the storm's wrath.
Tens of thousands of structures are expected to be flooded by storm surge alone, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said at a press conference Thursday. "Our greatest concern about this storm remains the same -- storm surge and massive flooding," he said.
Florence is hitting the U.S. coast just as Super Typhoon Mangkhut is threatening to spur chaos in parts of Asia. The Philippines placed the main Luzon island under storm alert and said as many as 824,000 Filipinos may have to be evacuated before the storm hits land on Saturday morning.
On the forecast track, the center of Florence is expected to move inland across the extremes of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina Friday and Saturday. It will then go northward across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week, according to the NHC.
Once the center moves inland, the intensity of the hurricane is set to decrease, according to a forecast discussion posted on the NHC's website. Florence should weaken to a tropical storm after 36 hours, although rainfall could still be catastrophic.
"It cannot be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard associated with slow-moving Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland through the weekend," the discussion said.
North Carolina is the largest tobacco grower and ranks second among U.S. states in hog inventory and producing broiler chickens. CoBank ACB, an agricultural lender, estimates damage to North Carolina farming could hit $1 billion before the storm slows.
Along with agriculture, the Carolinas stand as an important regional hub for banking, technology, manufacturing and transportation, accounting for about 4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, according to a Bloomberg U.S. economic analysis. The path may affect more than 4,000 manufacturing and distribution facilities, potentially hurting sectors including auto-parts and packaged foods, according to Bloomberg Supply Chain data.
Charlotte, home to Bank of America and several regional banks, is expected to face monumental amounts of rain.
Operations at the ports of Wilmington, Charleston, South Carolina, and Norfolk in Virginia, which together handled 23 percent of East Coast imports in 2017, have been disrupted by the storm.
Pratish Narayanan, Heesu Lee, Jim Efstathiou Jr., Paige Smith, Andrew Wallender, Christopher Martin, David Wethe and Nathan Crooks contributed to this report.