Hurricane Florence began lashing the North Carolina coast on Thursday, with heavy surf pounding the Outer Banks and barrier islands, winds shredding flags, and a storm surge pushing seawater over some beaches and past oceanfront homes.
The storm was downgraded from a category 4 on Thursday to a category 2, but its massive size (about 400 miles wide) and the storm surge it is bringing with it was expected to hammer the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, and perhaps even Georgia.
Forecasters said it appears the storm will make landfall somewhere around Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, which sits just east of Wilmington. Millions of people have evacuated to inland communities as the storm churns westward.
Images of fishing piers at Atlantic Beach, North Topsail Beach, and Emerald Isle showed waves pounding the wooden structures.
Experts are warning people that the most serious threat posed by Florence might just be the massive amount of water it is expected to leave in its wake, from the storm surge that could exceed 13 feet in some areas to a deluge of rainfall that may hit 40 inches in certain pockets.
Inland cities and towns will not be spared from the storm, with anywhere from 5-20 inches of rain forecast to fall in many parts of North and South Carolina. Surrounding states like Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and even Pennsylvania will receive heavy rain at the end of the weekend and into next week as well.
Notable developments with Florence as of Thursday afternoon:
- Hurricane-force winds extend up to 80 miles from the center of the storm, which is expected to make landfall around 8 a.m. ET on Friday.
- The storm has slowed down and is forecast to travel across South Carolina after it makes landfall. It will then hitch a ride on the jet stream and turn northeast.
- Nearly 1,200 flights have been canceled because of the storm.
- Millions of people could lose power across North and South Carolina.
- Atlantic Beach was receiving winds of roughly 65-75 mph as of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, according to a Fox News report.
AccuWeather Founder and President Dr. Joel N. Myers said the damage and economic impact from the storm will likely be measured in the tens of billions of dollars.
"AccuWeather estimates that Hurricane Florence will cause $30-60 billion in economic impact and damage," Myers said. "To put this in context, we correctly predicted the full extent of Hurricane Harvey's economic damage to be $190 billion last year."
Not everyone in the low-lying coastal areas in Florence's path have heeded warnings to evacuate. Carolina Beach, a small community of roughly 6,300 residents and a vacation destination for many North Carolinians, has about 1,000 residents staying behind, according to a Fox News report.
The entire town of Carolina Beach is just five feet above sea level, which will be no match for the expected storm surge of 13 feet or more.
CNN quoted the town's Mayor Joe Benson as saying, "Our sand dunes are healthy but they're not going to be able to keep back a wall of water like that. Flooding is almost guaranteed."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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