Four killed as Florence swamps Carolinas

WILMINGTON, N.C., Sept 14 (Reuters) - Hurricane Florence crashed into the Carolinas on Friday and was later downgraded to a tropical storm, knocking down trees, swamping streets and causing four deaths before slowing to a pace that will lead to a dayslong deluge for the region.

The storm's first casualties, which included a mother and her baby killed when a tree fell on their brick house in Wilmington, North Carolina, were announced about eight hours after Florence came ashore. The child's father was taken to a hospital.

In Pender County, North Carolina, a woman suffered a heart attack and died because debris blocking roads prevented paramedics from reaching her. A fourth person was killed in Lenoir County while plugging in a generator, the governor's office said.

After landfall, Florence slowed to a pace that meant it would plague the area with days of flooding. Its storm surge - the wall of water it pushed in from the Atlantic - "overwhelmed" the town of New Bern at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said.

"To those in the storm's path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place," he said at a news conference in Raleigh, adding that Florence would "continue its violent grind across the state for days."

Photos of the Florence's destruction: 

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Hurricane Florence makes landfall
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Hurricane Florence makes landfall
IN SPACE - SEPTEMBER 14: In this NOAA satellite handout image , shows Hurricane Florence as it made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina on September 14, 2018. The National Hurricane Center reported Florence had sustained winds of 90 mph at landfall and was moving slowly westward at 6 mph. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - SEPTEMBER 14: Storm clouds are seen over the 2nd ave pier as the force of Hurricane Florence is beginning to be felt on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, United States. Hurricane Florence is hitting along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline bringing high winds and rain. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A car goes through a flooded street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - SEPTEMBER 14: Clouds are seen over a deserted Ocean blvd as the force of Hurricane Florence is felt on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, United States. Hurricane Florence is hitting along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline bringing high winds and rain. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A car goes through a flooded street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A flooded street is seen as the outer bands of Hurricane Florence hits in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A car goes through a flooded street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: People try cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A man tries to cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: People try cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: People try cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: US military vehicle goes through a flooded street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A man tries to cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
People walk on a local street as water from Neuse River starts flooding houses upon Hurricane Florence coming ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
A member of the U.S. Army walks through floodwaters near the Union Point Park Complex as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Water from Neuse River starts flooding houses as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
The Bank of America is seen covered in plywood as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Docks broken by water from Neuse River are seen floating as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
The Union Point Park Complex is seen flooded as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Water from Neuse River floods houses as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - SEPTEMBER 14: Linda Stephens checks out the weather as the force of Hurricane Florence is beginning to be felt on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, United States. Hurricane Florence is hitting along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline bringing high winds and rain. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A tree bends from the heavy rain and wind from Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina on September 14, 2018. - Florence smashed into the US East Coast Friday with howling winds, torrential rains and life-threatening storm surges as emergency crews scrambled to rescue hundreds of people stranded in their homes by flood waters. Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and dangerous. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Jeremiah Johnson, a front desk clerk at the Sleep Inn in Jacksonville, North Carolina, attempts to reattach the front doors of the hotel on September 14, 2018, after the hotel lost power in the evening during Hurricane Florence. - Florence smashed into the US East Coast Friday with howling winds, torrential rains and life-threatening storm surges as emergency crews scrambled to rescue hundreds of people stranded in their homes by flood waters. Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and dangerous. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team rescue a man with chest pains from his flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The roof of a house is seen affected by winds from Hurricane Florence as it hits the town of Wilson, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Children sit and play games in a hotel lobby that has lost its power as Hurricane Florence comes ashore on Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - SEPTEMBER 14: A damaged awning is seen as winds from Hurricane Florence on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, United States. Hurricane Florence is hitting along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline bringing high winds and rain. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Rescue workers from Township No. 7 Fire Department and volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team use a truck to move people rescued from their flooded homes during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Rescue workers from Township No. 7 Fire Department and volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team use a truck to move people rescued from their flooded homes during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteer Amber Hersel from the Civilian Crisis Response Team carries 7-year-old Keiyana Cromartie after she and her family were rescued from their flooded home during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Rescue workers from Township No. 7 Fire Department and volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team use a boat to rescue a woman and her dog from their flooded home during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Rain water flooded streets are pictured as Hurricane Florence moves into the Carolinas in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Roselle Chen
People walk in the rain water flooded streets as Hurricane Florence moves into the Carolinas in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Roselle Chen
Palm trees blow in the wind as the outer bands of Hurricane Florence make landfall on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. - Florence smashed into the US East Coast Friday with howling winds, torrential rains and life-threatening storm surges as emergency crews scrambled to rescue hundreds of people stranded in their homes by flood waters. Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and dangerous. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Mitchell Floor, left, holds a flashlight as Comfort Suites general manager Beth Bratz, center, and employee Dee Branch go to make coffee as Hurricane Florence rages in Wilmington, N.C. Thursday Sept. 14, 2018. The area lost power around 4 a.m. and the facility was running small lights, phone chargers and the coffee machine on a generator. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
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Authorities said more than 60 people, including many children and pets, had to be evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds caused parts of the roof to collapse.

The center of the hurricane's eye came ashore at about 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT) near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina, with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

By mid-afternoon the winds had dropped to 75 mph (120 kph) and the center was moving west at 6 mph (10 kph), the NHC said, and parts of North and South Carolina would get as much as 40 inches of rain (1 meter).

Cooper said Florence was set to cover almost all of North Carolina in several feet of water. As of Friday morning, Atlantic Beach, a town on the state's Outer Banks barrier islands, already had received 30 inches (76 cm) of rain, the U.S. Geological Service said. Twenty inches (50 cm) were reported by early Friday afternoon in the town of Oriental.

Authorities in New Bern, a town of about 30,000 people that dates to the early 18th century, said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods and that the downtown area was underwater. Calls for help kept coming in as the wind picked up and the tide arrived, said city public information officer Colleen Roberts.

"These are folks who decided to stay and ride out the storm for whatever reason, despite having a mandatory evacuation," she said. "These are folks who are maybe in one-story buildings and they’re seeing the floodwaters rise."

Video reports from several towns in the Carolinas showed emergency personnel wading through rippling thigh-high floodwaters in residential neighborhoods.

President Donald Trump is expected to travel to areas hit by Florence next week, once it is determined his travel will not disrupt any rescue or recovery efforts, the White House said on Friday.

'IT'S INSANE'

Florence also blew down trees, including one that went through the roof of Kevin DiLoreto's home in Wilmington. He said all roads leading to his neighborhood were blocked by fallen trees.

"It's insane," he said in a phone interview. "Everybody laughs at the fact that this storm got downgraded ... but I've never seen tree devastation this bad.

"Afterwards, I'm going to drink a bottle of whiskey and take a two-day nap, but right now I'm walking the neighborhood and making sure my neighbors are fine, because nobody can get in here."

More than 722,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and South Carolina early on Friday, utility officials said. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and restoration could take weeks.

Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds on Thursday but dropped to Category 1 before coming ashore and was later downgraded to a tropical storm. It is expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said. Significant weakening is expected over the weekend.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia. Some of those who stayed went to shelters while others stuck it out in their homes.

Maysie Baumgardner, 7, and her family sheltered at the Hotel Ballast in downtown Wilmington as Florence filled the streets with floodwaters.

"It looks heavy outside," she said. "I'm a little bit scared right now, but I have my iPad and I'm watching Netflix."

Florence was one of two major storms on Friday. In the Philippines, evacuations were under way with Super Typhoon Mangkhut expected to hit on Saturday in an area impacting an estimated 5.2 million people.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh; Scott DiSavino and Gina Cherelus in New York; Makini Brice in Washington; Andy Sullivan in Columbia, South Carolina; and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)

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