Hurricane Florence lashes US east coast, triggers flood warnings

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13.09.2018

Hurricane Florence poised to hit southern US states: Maya ...

Seven people have been killed and more than 600,000 homes and businesses across North Carolina have lost power. Authorities warn of epic flooding, as the storm's effects will be felt for the next two days.

Thousands of people living near North Carolina's rising rivers were ordered to evacuate their homes on Saturday, a day after Hurricane Florence made landfall in the US east coast. Coastal streets were inundated with ocean water, causing damage to dozens of homes and businesses, officials said. 

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The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) described how winds of up to 90 miles (150 kilometers) per hour were pummeling the state of North Carolina. At least six people have died in the state, including a woman and her baby when a tree fell on their house. A seventh person died in neighboring South Carolina. 

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Hurricane Florence: A devastating journey

Although Hurricane Florence diminished from a Category 5 storm to a Category 1 before making landfall, and then to a Tropical Storm, its sheer size – 350 miles wide (565 kilometers) — and grinding speed would make it a tough event to weather.

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Homes destroyed

At least eight people were killed by the storm. A mother and her baby were killed when a tree fell on their home in North Carolina. The father, who was injured in the tragic incident, was hospitalized. Authorities believe the death toll could rise as the storm moves out of the area.

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Towns inundated

Emergency personnel and volunteers rescued roughly 500 people who were trapped by flooding in New Bern. More than 20,000 people have been housed in emergency shelters across North Carolina. The US National Hurricane Center warned of "catastrophic flash flooding."

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Economic nightmare

Authorities are estimated economic damages amounting to up to $60 billion (€51.6 billion). US President Donald Trump is expected to visit "once it is determined his travel will not disrupt any rescue or recovery efforts."

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No rest

But North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned that the worst could still be yet to come as the state prepared for "several more days of rain." He described the rainfall as a "1,000-year event" destined to change the lives of the Carolinas' residents.

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More to come

In North Carolina, Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin urged thousands of residents to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere due to the flood risk. "If you are refusing to leave during this mandatory evacuation, you need to things like notify your legal next of kin because the loss of life is very, very possible," he said. "The worst is yet to come."

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Search and rescue

Although the military has been deployed to the Carolinas, US officials said the storm's slow movement is making it difficult to get rescue helicopters airborne. Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, who heads US Northern Command, told AP news agency that Navy aircraft are preparing to launch off the coast to provide more information about the situation.

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Survivor the cat

With flood waters rising faster than expected, many communities have been caught off guard by the additional devastation in the wake of Florence. About 50 people have been airlifted out by helicopter and hundreds more rescued from their homes by boat. But for one of those rescued, he couldn't leave a kitten behind. He's called his new friend "Survivor." ls/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

Read more: Major US tourist sites prepare for Hurricane Florence

According to the NHC, Florence entered North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane and was downgraded to a tropical storm, as it made its way inland. Authorities warned that even in its weakened state, the storm still carried "very dangerous winds" and the potential for epic flooding.

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"Just because the wind speed came down, the intensity of this storm came down ... please do not let your guard down," said Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), on Thursday.

Given the storm's size and slow speed, officials warned that Florence could cause similar large-scale flood damage to that seen in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago.

"Inland flooding kills a lot of people, unfortunately, and that's what we're about to see," Long added.

Read more: The world's deadliest hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones

North Carolina's Emergency Management tweeted that it is "currently engaged in large scale search and rescue missions in coastal counties. The flooding we are experiencing will only get worse."

Within hours of the storm making landfall, officials in Onslow County — which includes the city of Jacksonville — reported "major structural damage to homes, businesses and institutions."

WXII-TV reported that 150 people were waiting to be rescued from rising waters in the city of New Bern. A city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts told WRAL-TV that 200 people have already been plucked to safety.

About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been put under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders to avoid what emergency officials are calling a "once in a lifetime" storm.

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DW News | 13.09.2018

Virginia residents prepare for Hurricane Florence

Thousands of people have taken temporary shelter in converted schools and community centers, while those who have ignored orders have been warned that rescuers will not be able to reach them at the height of the storm.

In addition to the potentially destructive hurricane, forecasters also put parts of North Carolina on tornado watch.

mm/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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