More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing cinderblock motel. Others could only wait and hope someone would come for them. So if you find yourself here, please get out.
There were no immediate reports of any deaths. Downpours and flooding would be especially severe, lasting for days, if the storm stalls over land.
Duke Energy said Florence, a Category 2 storm, could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Tropical storm-level winds and rain are already beginning to hit the Carolinas.And despite slower winds the devastating effects of predicted massive rainfall have not changed, according to the National Hurricane Centre (NHC), which warned of "catastrophic flash flooding" from up to 40 inches of rain. As the recovery from past storms continues in many rural towns, the next storm is about to strike.
More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
As the last-minute evacuations and preparations of those who refuse to leave wound down, an eerie calm has settled over typically bustling Carolina cities.
The impact of Florence will be widespread, with destructive winds, life-threatening storm surge, risky surf, torrential rainfall, flooding and the potential for tornadoes.
The storm has sustained wind speeds of 90 miles per hour, and a total of 40 inches of rain could fall over the next few days, according to the National Hurricane Center.
It was expected to begin pushing its way westward across SC later in the day, in a watery siege that could go on all weekend.
The rainy summer has already caused some flooding at the zoo, so Kottyan said it has already identified problem areas on the grounds and is taking measures to guard against additional flooding from the hurricane, such as blocking animal stall doors with hay bails.
The path of Hurricane Florence sees it going over some of the poorest areas on the eastern seaboard. According to forecasters, the center of Florence is expected to hit North Carolina's southern coast Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday. That's enough water to fill the Empire State Building almost 40,000 times. Pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air.
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The NWS reported "lots of tree damage, debris and power lines down" across Harkers Island, N.C. Traffic lights out of order because of power failures swayed in the gusty wind.
Airlines canceled more than 2,100 flights through Sunday.
Rescue workers in North Carolina meanwhile were scrambling to save people stranded in their homes.
New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw told The Herald-Sun around 5 a.m. that about 200 people had been rescued so far.
Tom Balance, owner of a seafood restaurant in New Bern, had decided against evacuating his home and was soon alarmed to see waves coming off the Neuse and the water getting higher and higher.
"We have prepared everything", he says, "to have enough food, water, batteries, radio, first-aid supplies, and everything we need to be safe".
"The sun rose this morning on an extremely risky situation and it's going to get worse", he said at a news conference in Raleigh.
"In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest", said Peggy Perry, who along with three relatives, was trapped early Friday in her New Bern home.