Florence continues to dump rain and threaten lives on the east coast of the United States even after it was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Saturday that Florence will produce top winds of 80km/h and is “dumping” almost 40cm of additional rain on the states of North and South Carolina.
The number of dead had risen to at least eight by Saturday, authorities said.
Five people were known to have perished on Friday, including a mother and an infant in North Carolina who died after a tree fell on their home.
The reports of the first deaths came after Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15am local time (11:30 GMT) on Friday at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington, as the centre of its eye moved onshore, according to the NHC.
By 4:50pm (20:50GMT) on Friday, NHC had downgraded the hurricane to a tropical storm, but Florence’s movement had slowed to a crawl, piling on the rain in a siege that could go on all weekend long.
“We just don’t want people to think this thing is over because it’s not,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told reporters on Saturday.
“We’re going to see areas of flooding that have not flooded before,” he said, adding, “I have a real concern about that.”
Florence has already caused widespread damage and knocked out power for nearly one million people.
Underwater for ‘a week or more’
Meteorologists said flooding was expected along waterways far from the coast of North and South Carolina and possibly other states.
AccuWeather, a US-based weather service, said that some communities might be under flood water for “possibly a week or more.”
Florence’s centre was about 75km west-southwest of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 45km northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to the NHC.
|The Neuse River floods the waterfront in New Bern, North Carolina, on September 14, 2018 during Hurricane Florence [Logan Cyrus/AFP]
Meteorologists have noted that Florence’s strange, stationary behaviour allows it to take in moisture from the ocean for continued downpours.
Though winds have since settled, a gust of 169km/h was recorded at Wilmington airport on Friday, surpassing the power of Hurricane Fran two decades ago.
|Rescuers search a flooded neighbourhood in Fairfield Habour, North Carolina for evacuees during Hurricane Florence [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP]
The NHC also said a gauge north of Wilmington in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, reported 1.92 metres of rainfall.
North Carolina Roy Cooper said on Saturday Florence is producing “epic amounts of rainfall.”
Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it’s unclear how many did. The homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions. Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia.
Florence is moving west-southwest at 5 miles per hour and is expected to turn toward the west and northwest over the weekend before heading north through the Ohio Valley by Monday, according to the NHC.
|Volunteers help rescue three children from their flooded home in James City, North Carolina [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP]
Gradual weakening is forecast as the storm moves inland during the next couple of days, and it is likely to weaken to a tropical depression by Saturday night, the hurricane monitoring centre said.
Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticised as slow and unprepared last year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Cooper, the governor, said that the storm will “eventually leave our state” but called on Carolinians to remain vigilant until it does.
“This one is sure testing us, but now is the time for us to persevere. I have never known North Carolinians to quit in the face of a challenge, and we’re not about to start,” Cooper said.