(UPI) — Hurricane Florence began flooding coastal towns in North Carolina early Friday, prompting dozens of swift water rescues and power blackouts for hundreds of thousands.
The center of Florence hit southeast North Carolina early Friday, where an estimated 20 or 40 inches of rain is forecast before the storm disappears. Nearly 5 million people could be impacted by fierce rains over the next few days.
The hurricane also produced six tornadoes.
A flotilla of boats began rescuing people in New Bern, N.C., early Friday, where volunteers are using their own boats to rescuers hundreds stranded in flooded homes. The coastal town was under a mandatory evacuation order, but many chose to ride out the storm. Officials said about 200 have been rescued so far and 150 more need help.
“We’ve planned for this. We knew it was coming,” New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw said. “We’re not going to be satisfied until the last resident is rescued and in a shelter, and then we can assess damages and go from there.”
As water levels rose, the city assured stranded residents help is coming.
“You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but we are coming to get you,” the city said in a tweet.
Downtown New Bern, where the Trent and Neuse rivers converge, is completely underwater. A veterans cemetery near the coast is completely underwater.
Swift water rescues are also underway in other parts of coastal North Carolina — Fairfield, Harbour, Adams Creek and Township 7 — but officials said some areas were too dangerous to reach, due to extreme flooding, strong winds and storm surges.
“Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, team work and common sense and patience,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday. “The heavy rains and high winds are likely to spread across North Carolina and linger for days. We will survive this, and we will endure.”
Wayne County officials say they learned from their experiences with Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Flooding from those storms cut the county in half. This time, the county set up staging areas on both sides of the city.
Dam failure is another concern. North Carolina has 24 functioning high hazard dams near the coast. Of those, 18 are in unsatisfactory or poor condition, according to state records.
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