Carolinas brace for severe flooding as Dorian hits with high winds, rain

Floodwaters rose in South Carolina on Thursday as Hurricane Dorian, which weakened to a Category 2, approached the state's coast, bringing high winds and the danger of a life-threatening storm surge.

Hundreds of thousands of households and businesses in the state were without power and roads were closed by flooding, police reported.

Winds of up to 68 mph were recorded at the Charleston, South Carolina, international airport early Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Full coverage: Latest stories and video on Hurricane Dorian

The storm was about 50 miles from Charleston as of 11 a.m., with maximum sustained winds at 110 mph. It was expected to move along the coast, with the center possibly moving over land in North Carolina on Thursday evening.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper urged people to take seriously mandatory evacuation orders for all of the state's barrier islands and urged residents to "get to safety and stay there."

"Hurricane Dorian is ready to unleash its fury on our state," he said during a briefing Wednesday. "The storm has regained strength. It is serious, and it can be deadly. The message this morning is this: Get to safety and stay there. Don't let your guard down. This won't be a brush-by."

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This Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 image provided by NASA shows a view of Hurricane Dorian from the International Space Station as it churned over the Atlantic Ocean north of Puerto Rico. Leaving mercifully little damage in its wake in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Dorian swirled toward the U.S., with forecasters warning it will draw energy from the warm, open waters as it closes in. (NASA via AP)
Store shelves are empty of bottled water as residents buy supplies in preparation for Hurricane Dorian, in Doral, Fla., Thursday, July 29, 2019. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Dorian could hit the Florida coast over the weekend as a major hurricane. (AP Photo/Marcus Lim)
Shoppers prepare ahead of Hurricane Dorian at The Home Depot on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Pembroke Pines, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Empty shelves are seen with a sign at Costco stating that the retailer is currently sold out of water ahead of Hurricane Dorian on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham, left, looks on as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about Tropical Storm Dorian outside of the the National Hurricane Center, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
This GOES-16 satellite image taken Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, at 14:20 UTC and provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Dorian, right, moving over open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Dorian was expected to grow into a potentially devastating Category 3 hurricane before hitting the U.S. mainland late Sunday or early Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia. (NOAA via AP)
Shoppers wait in long lines at Costco, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Davie, Fla., as they stock up on supplies ahead of Hurricane Dorian. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 30: People walk to their boat through a flooded parking lot at the Haulover Marine Center before the arrival of Hurricane Dorian on August 30, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. The high water was due to King tide which may cause additional problems as Hurricane Dorian arrives in the area as a possible Category 4 storm along the Florida coast. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 30: Weston Rice drives through a flooded parking lot as he prepares to drop his jet ski into the water at the Haulover Marine Center before the arrival of Hurricane Dorian on August 30, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. The high water was due to King tide which may cause additional problems as Hurricane Dorian arrives in the area as a possible Category 4 storm along the Florida coast. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A man stands on a store's roof as he works to prepare it for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Freeport on Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. Hurricane Dorian intensified yet again Sunday as it closed in on the northern Bahamas, threatening to batter islands with Category 5-strength winds, pounding waves and torrential rain. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
This GOES-16 satellite image taken Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, at 17:00 UTC and provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Dorian, right, churning over the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Dorian struck the northern Bahamas on Sunday as a catastrophic Category 5 storm, its 185 mph winds ripping off roofs and tearing down power lines as hundreds hunkered in schools, churches and other shelters. (NOAA via AP)
President Donald Trump, left, listens as Kenneth Graham, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, on screen, gives an update during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington, at right of Trump is Acting Administrator Pete Gaynor, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler, and Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington, as Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, left, looks on. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
People walk on a largely deserted beach of the Atlantic Ocean on the barrier island in Vero Beach, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. The barrier island is under a voluntary evacuation today and a mandatory evacuation tomorrow in preparation for the possibility of Hurricane Dorian making landfall. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
RIVIERA BEACH, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 1: Workers place shutters over the windows of a Food Mart store as the owner prepares just in case Hurricane Dorian hits the area on September 1, 2019 in Riviera Beach, Florida. Dorian was projected to make landfall along the Florida coast but now projections have it making a sharp turn to the north as it closes in on Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Tree branches are seen in the road during the approach of Hurricane Dorian on September 1, 2019 in Nassau, Bahamas. - Hurricane Dorian strengthened into a catastrophic Category 5 storm Sunday, packing 160 mph (267 kph) winds as it was about to slam into the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, US weather forecasters said."#Dorian is now a category 5 #hurricane with 160 mph sustained winds," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a tweet. "The eyewall of this catastrophic hurricane is about to hit the Abaco Islands with devastating winds," it said.The slow moving storm was expected to linger over the Bahamas through Sunday and much of Monday, dumping up to 25 inches of rain in some areas and unleashing storm surges of 10 to 15-feet, forecasters said. (Photo by Lucy WORBOYS / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUCY WORBOYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Tree branches are seen in the road during the approach of Hurricane Dorian on September 1, 2019 in Nassau, Bahamas. - Hurricane Dorian strengthened into a catastrophic Category 5 storm Sunday, packing 160 mph (267 kph) winds as it was about to slam into the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, US weather forecasters said."#Dorian is now a category 5 #hurricane with 160 mph sustained winds," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a tweet. "The eyewall of this catastrophic hurricane is about to hit the Abaco Islands with devastating winds," it said.The slow moving storm was expected to linger over the Bahamas through Sunday and much of Monday, dumping up to 25 inches of rain in some areas and unleashing storm surges of 10 to 15-feet, forecasters said. (Photo by Lucy WORBOYS / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUCY WORBOYS/AFP/Getty Images)
The entrance to Wambasso Beach County Park is closed in Wambasso Beach, Florida on September 1, 2019, ahead of Hurricane Dorian. - Hurricane Dorian unleashed "catastrophic conditions" as it hit the northern Bahamas, lashing the low-lying island chain with devastating 180 mph (285 kph) winds, the most intense in its modern history. Florida residents, meanwhile, were bracing for a potentially dangerous brush with the storm as it slowly turns north after passing the Bahamas. (Photo by Adam DelGiudice / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADAM DELGIUDICE/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump receives a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on Hurricane Dorian in Washington, DC, on September 1, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump receives a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on Hurricane Dorian in Washington, DC, on September 1, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 1: In this NOAA GOES-East satellite handout image, Hurricane Dorian, now a Cat. 5 storm, tracks towards the Florida coast taken at 13:20Z September 1, 2019 in the Atlantic Ocean. A hurricane warning is in effect for much of the northwestern Bahamas as it gets hit with 175 mph winds. According to the National Hurricane Center Dorian is predicted to hit the U.S. as a Category 4 storm. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
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Cooper said even if the storm doesn't come ashore, there will still be "extensive damage" because the eye of the hurricane is so close to land.

In the northeast part of the state, storm surges of more than 3 feet above ground are forecast for later in the week.

At least one storm-related death was confirmed by state medical examiners in North Carolina. An 85-year-old man from Columbus County died Monday when he fell off a ladder while preparing his house for the storm, officials said.

The last major hurricane to make landfall in North Carolina was Fran in 1996, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach.

Dorian regained strength Wednesday to become a Category 3 hurricane, but by late Thursday morning had been downgraded to a Category 2.

Up to 15 inches of rain could bring life-threatening flash floods as Dorian moves northeast along the coast through Friday, the weather service warned.

Images of people kayaking down the streets of Charleston as rain battered the city overnight were shared on social media early Thursday.

Charleston Police urged people to take shelter as storm conditions worsened.

"Emergency management officials are requesting that citizens throughout the City of Charleston begin to shelter in place as conditions are beginning to deteriorate," police tweeted.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg praised residents for following those warnings and staying indoors.

"We're kind of in the thick of the storm, but I'm so proud of our citizens who are mostly staying inside," he said Wednesday.

Tecklenburg said so far, there had been only one report of an injury. Thousands of people have lost power, he said.

"As long as the rain doesn't inundate us ... we're going to be OK," he said. "My main concern is the continued wind. Some trees are coming down. If that continues, we'll continue to see damage."

Sara Hughes, who lives in North Charleston, said she and her family were sleeping downstairs when a tree crashed into her son's upstairs bedroom Thursday morning.

"I’m just thankful that he listens and we all hunkered down downstairs," she told NBC affiliate WIS News of Columbia.

Utility company Dominion Energy South Carolina said in a tweetthat there were more than 165, 200 customers, primarily in the Charleston area, without power as of Thursday afternoon.

South Carolina Emergency Management Division said that statewide, the total outages were more than 202,000 by 9:18 a.m. ET.

Thursday afternoon, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster began lifting emergency evacuation orders for some counties. The state's Emergency Management Division said local authorities would advise residents on procedures for returning to their homes.

Dorian is expected to remain a hurricane for the next few days, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm's center should reach the extreme southeast of New England by Friday.

Adding to the threats are tornadoes that could be prompted by the storm system across the border area of coastal South and North Carolina. The at-risk area is expected to expand to include eastern North Carolina through Thursday evening.

At least one tornado was spotted in Pender County on Thursday morning, according to the weather service.

Dorian already caused utter destruction in the Bahamas, ripping roofs and walls off homes, toppling trees, flooding streets and burying communities in debris. At least 20 people were killed, Bahamas Health Minister Duane Sands told NBC News on Wednesday, and that number is expected to rise.

The destruction seen in the Bahamas mirrors the damage inflicted on Puerto Rico and Dominica during hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, the World Meteorological Organization said in a statement.

At its peak, Dorian reached maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and caused storm surges of 18 to 23 feet.

Storm surges are a growing threat to low-lying coastal communities because of sea-level rise resulting from climate change, the meteorological organization said. Rainfall associated with tropical cyclones are also projected to increase with global warming.

Dorian has been one of the slowest-moving cyclones ever recorded. A recent study by federal scientists at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that such stalling by storms has increased in frequency among North Atlantic hurricanes, which results in more extreme rainfall.

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