Florence to approach the Carolinas coast later Thursday: NHC

Don't play games with it, says Trump as Hurricane Florence heads for US East Coast

Florence, now a tropical storm, swirled at a near-standstill over the Carolinas on Saturday, dumping non-stop rain over areas already flooded by seawater and swelling rivers and creeks across both states.

More than 2 feet of rain already had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on as Florence, a hurricane-turned-tropical storm, practically parked itself over the two states. At least four people have died, a toll authorities fear will rise as the storm crawls westward across SC.

The winds had been as high as 140 miles per hour earlier in the week when the storm had rated as a Category 4 major storm, but North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned against complacency because of the drop.

Hurricane Florence has inundated USA coastal streets with ocean water and left tens of thousands without power, and forecasters say conditions will only worsen as the hulking storm slogs inland.

With tropical storm-force winds swirling 350 miles wide, Florence continued deluging the Carolinas on Saturday morning after pushing surging seas far ashore.

Parts of New Bern and North Carolina were 10 feet underwater after local rivers overflowed their banks. Dozens more were pulled from a collapsed hotel.

Florence is expected to dump about 18 trillion gallons of rain over a week along its entire path, enough water to fill more than 65,000 Empire State Buildings, Mr Maue calculated.

USA power companies said more than 974,000 homes and businesses, mostly in North Carolina and SC, were without power on Saturday after Florence hit the Southeast coast.

Wilmington Police confirmed that a mother and her infant died when a tree fell on their home. The governor's office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension leads in the rain.

The center of the storm made landfall around 7:15 a.m. near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., close to the SC border.

People walk through the high winds from Hurricane Florence in downtown Swansboro N.C., Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.

For people living inland in the Carolinas, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest.

About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.

Authorities warned too of the threat of mudslides and the risk of environmental havoc from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and pig farms. After criticism for its response in Puerto Rico to last year's Hurricane Maria, which officials there said was responsible for 3,000 deaths, Trump has vowed a vigorous response to Florence and defended his handling of Maria.

Rainfall has been heavy and consistent in the areas of the storm, with Florence expected to cascade up to 40 inches of rain across southern and central portions of North Carolina into far northeastern SC. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay, or cover the entire state of Texas with almost 4 inches (10 centimetres) of water.

In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River trapped about 200 people.

"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", the city of New Bern tweeted around 2:30 a.m.

Sadie Marie Holt, among those rescued from the hard-hit town, said she stuck behind for a doctor's appointment that was later cancelled.

Eudy said his family stayed in their home partly to protect their house.

Ashley Warren and boyfriend Chris Smith did manage to paddle away from their home in a boat with their two dogs, and the experience left her shaken.

"Hurricane Florence was uninvited but she's just about here anyway", he said at a news conference.

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