Hurricane Florence causes ‘catastrophic’ flooding after hitting US coast

Union Point Park is flooded with rising water from the Neuse and Trent rivers (Gray Whitley/AP) Credit: AP/Press Association Images

Hurricane Florence has hit the US coast leaving streets inundated with ocean water and tens of thousands of homes without power.

The centre of the hurricane made landfall near Wrightsville, North Carolina, bringing with it life-threatening storm surges and 90mph winds.

The National Hurricane Centre warned there would be “catastrophic” fresh water flooding over a wide area of the Carolinas.

More than 60 people had to be evacuated from a motel at risk of collapse in Jacksonville. Parts of buildings ripped apart by the storm flew through the air.

Authorities in the North Carolina city of New Bern said there were around 150 people waiting to be rescued from rising flood waters.

A TV station had to evacuate its newsroom in the middle of coverage of the hurricane.

Staff at New Bern’s WCTI-TV NewsChannel 12 had to abandon their studio after roads around the building began flooding.

The weather service later measured a storm surge 10ft deep in the city, which lies on the Neuse River near the Atlantic coast.

In Washington, North Carolina, the wind-swept Pamlico River burst its banks and flooded entire neighbourhoods. Floodwaters submerged US Highway 264, cutting off a major route to other flood-prone areas along the river.

More than 415,000 homes and businesses were without power on Friday morning, according to which tracks the nation’s electrical grid.

Screaming winds bent trees and led to near-horizontal rain as Florence’s leading edge whipped the Carolina coast to begin an onslaught that could last for days, leaving a wide area underwater from both heavy downpours and rising seas.

The storm’s intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to around 90mph.

Governor Roy Cooper has warned of an impending disaster.

He said: “The worst of the storm is not yet here but these are early warnings of the days to come.

“Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience.”

Mr Cooper requested additional federal disaster assistance in anticipation of what his office called “historic major damage” across the state.

Prisoners were affected too. North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centres in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities.

Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it is unclear how many did.

The homes of about 10 million are under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.

Forecasters said conditions will deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.

Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11ft of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3ft of rain, touching off severe flooding.

Although it was once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140mph, the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.

Forecasters said that given the storm’s size and sluggish track, it could cause enormous damage similar to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses.