The rain turned sideways Thursday, rivers swelled and floodwaters began to fill streets as massive Hurricane Florence trudged toward North Carolina.
The Category 2 storm’s outer bands lashed towns on the barrier islands and on some of the Tar Heel State’s rivers while the center of the cyclone was looking at a possible Friday afternoon landfall.
In Morehead City, the rain and surf pounded the shoreline and took aim at the few boats still in the water. In New Bern, on the Neuse River, a CNN team had to keep shifting position in a park as the water kept rising until it was too dangerous to stay in the area.
Farther south, in Carolina Beach, the northern end of the town was being swamped as waters crashed over the dunes.
Some areas also saw the first of the hurricane-force winds. At Cape Lookout there were sustained winds of 82 mph and gusts that came close to 100.
“With this storm, it’s a Category 2 but the storm surge and the flooding is going to be that of a category 4,” CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray said Thursday night.
She said the momentum the storm has generated on its long trip across the Atlantic won’t go away just “because the winds decrease a couple miles an hour.”
While wind speeds dropped Thursday, forecasters reminded people that what makes Florence extremely dangerous are the potentially deadly storm surges, the expected mammoth coastal flooding and historic rainfall.
Florence is expected to go move slowly as it approaches North and South Carolina, whipping hurricane-force winds and dumping relentless rain at least through Saturday.
“It’s not going to take much in a lot of these areas to saturate the soil, so trees are going to come down really easily” and knock down power lines, said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center.
Florence is getting closer: As of 8 p.m. ET Thursday, the center of Florence was about 85 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 145 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The storm’s forward speed had slowed to 5 mph and forecasters were concerned it might have stalled.
When is landfall? Florence’s center will approach the North and South Carolina coasts late Thursday and Friday. The actual landfall — when the center of the eye reaches land — will be Friday afternoon at the earliest, said Neil Jacobs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
• Widespread power outages: More than 88,000 homes and businesses are without power, the North Carolina Emergency Management agency said.
• Many flights are canceled: More than 1,300 flights along the US East Coast have been canceled through Friday.