Florence, now a tropical storm, still poses 'catastrophic' flood threat — has killed at least 7

WILMINGTON, N.C. — At least seven people were killed after Hurricane Florence crashed ashore on North Carolina's coast Friday morning, ripping apart roofs with extreme winds, threatening massive storm surges and requiring dozens of water rescues.

The storm's death toll rose on Saturday from the five confirmed overnight, with two additional fatalities confirmed by officials in Carteret County, North Carolina. Details about their identities and cause of death have not yet been released.

The storm wobbled along the coast with a slow grind after Florence's eye made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, northeast of Wilmington, on Friday. Its lumbering pace propelled fears that flooding would worsen during high tide and force rivers to crest at record levels.

The hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm on Friday evening, and the National Weather Service said early Saturday that it was "slowly weakening." Its sustained winds had weakened to 50 mph and were expected to decrease further.

RELATED: Hurricane Florence makes landfall

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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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Steve Goldstein, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration liaison to FEMA headquarters, said on Saturday that the storm would "produce catastrophic flooding for some time," adding that many rivers would still experience catastrophic flooding from the storm and that 3- to 5-foot storm surges were still possible along the coast. Areas further inland through southwest Virginia could see as much as 15 inches of rainfall.

The heavy rain could result in "life-threatening flash flooding" and trigger landslides, the service said, and residents were urged not to drive through high water. Florence is expected to weaken to a tropical depression by Saturday evening as it turns northwest.


Here's the latest on Tropical Storm Florence:

  • A mother and her 8-month-old child died in Wilmington when a tree fell on their home, police said. Another woman died in Pender County after suffering a medical condition, and two deaths occurred in Lenoir County. On Saturday officials confirmed two more deaths in Carteret County.
  • The storm made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m. ET Friday. As of shortly before 11 p.m., Florence's center moved into extreme eastern South Carolina and was about 15 miles west-northwest of Myrtle Beach and was moving west-southwest at around 5 mph.
  • There were more than 500,000 customers in North Carolina and South Carolina without power as of 10 a.m. ET in North Carolina and South Carolina, according to Duke Energy.
  • More than 300 people were rescued in New Bern, north of Wilmington.
  • About 20,000 people in North Carolina sought refuge in more than 150 shelters, officials said. In South Carolina, there were more than 6,000 people in shelters Friday afternoon.

President Donald Trump declared a "major disaster" in North Carolina Saturday, freeing up federal funds for the state to use as it recovered from the storm.

Florence was a Category 1 storm when it made landfall but continued to carry maximum sustained winds of 65 mph and crawl along at just 5 mph Friday night. Forecasters warned of a potential storm total rainfall of up to 40 inches of rain in some parts. "This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding," the National Hurricane Center said.

More than 500,000 people in North and South Carolina were without power as of 10 a.m. ET Saturday, according to Duke Energy. Social media users shared videos of snapped trees and water rushing onto coastal streets like rivers.

In Wilmington, first responders rushed to a neighborhood where a tree fell on the back of a home, trapping a father, mother and child, reported NBC News' Lester Holt.

The unidentified woman and 8-month-old infant were killed, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said at a news conference.

The father was freed and taken to the hospital with unknown injuries, although a fire official said the victim had a "crush injury" and may have had a body part amputated, Holt reported.

In neighboring Pender County, a police spokeswoman said a woman died after suffering a medical condition. She had called for assistance, but large trees blocked roads to her home, the official added.

Two people died in Lenoir County, county Emergency Services Director Roger Dail said. A 78-year-old man was electrocuted while attempting to connect two extension cords in the rain, and a 77-year-old man was found dead Friday morning and he is believed to have been killed after being blown down by wind while going outside to check on his hunting dogs, Dail said.

Wilmington was hit with wind gusts of over 100 mph on Friday morning, and drivers weaved through streets cluttered with debris.

But the city was spared from widespread flooding, at least so far; authorities warned that storm surges may still swell the Cape Fear River and its tributaries, which at some points looked perilously close to overflowing Friday afternoon.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper cautioned that flooding and rising waters could inundate low-lying communities for days.

"This is an uninvited brute that just won't leave," Cooper said on "Today."

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said earlier Friday that his city had gotten more than 100 emergency calls, but crews have had difficulty getting out while the storm rages ashore and there's been "significant" inland flooding.

"I've been here all my life, and I've never seen a hurricane that's here for two days and pretty much on top of you," Saffo told "Today." He said Friday afternoon that "we’ve had a tremendous amount of damage in the community," and warned that many deaths in a hurricane happen in the storm’s aftermath.

Buddy Martinette, chief of the Wilmington Fire Department, added that crews have been unable to reach the city's beach neighborhoods and felled trees have turned accessing roads into a "jigsaw" puzzle.

"It is dangerous out there. There are live power lines, there are trees — it is a bad situation, and the winds are still pretty strong out there, and we expect more trees to come down," Evangelous, the Wilmington police chief, said Friday afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center said a gauge in Emerald Isle, about 84 miles north of Wilmington, reported 6.3 feet of inundation. More than 20 inches of rain was reported at Atlantic Beach, located on a North Carolina barrier island.

Fire and rescue officials in the riverfront city of New Bern, about 90 miles north of Wilmington, said water rescues were taking place and urged people not to take refuge in their attics unless they have a way to cut through the ceiling.

More than 360 people were rescued from flooded areas and teams had nearly 140 more people to get to, New Bern said on its websiteFriday evening. Mayor Dana Outlaw had said some residents remained holdouts even after crews went door to door pleading for them to seek emergency shelter.

"Be patient, we're on the way. We will get you rescued," Outlaw said while cautioning that first responders must be careful for their own safety.

In Jacksonville, North Carolina, more than 60 people, including one child, had to be rescued from a motel just after 12:30 a.m. ET as the storm threatened its structural integrity, Mayor Sammy Phillips told "Today." No one was killed, but there were reports of trees and power lines and other damage elsewhere in the city.

Military officials used two hardback Humvees and two assault amphibian vehicles to rescue approximately 20 people near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, which is in Jacksonville, on Saturday morning.

Tropical storm warnings affected areas with a population of more than 13 million, according to data from the National Weather Service. Areas with more than 2 million people were under a storm surge warning. Days ahead of the storm, about 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were warned to evacuate before its outer bands reached the coast Thursday.

Downpours from Florence were expected to continue through the weekend into early next week, having already produced more than 10 inches as the storm moves through South Carolina and farther inland. Severe flooding is forecast from Charleston to Columbia in South Carolina and north in Charlotte, North Carolina.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said at a news conference Friday afternoon that the main concern is flooding because of the slowness of the storm and the fact that rivers in the state flow from North Carolina, which is also experiencing heavy rain.

"We are not going to have electricity for a large part of the state for days and maybe even weeks," McMaster said. "This is going to be a very trying period," he said.

On Twitter, President Trump thanked first responders and law enforcement for their "incredible job" during Florence.

Trump plans to visit areas affected by the storm in the middle of next week, once it is clear that the trip would not disrupt rescue and recovery efforts, a White House spokesperson said.

Jon Schuppe reported from Wilmington, and Erik Ortiz reported from New York.

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