MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — The Latest on Hurricane Florence (all times local):
Florence has been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane with top sustained winds of 90 mph (150 kph).
The National Hurricane Center says Florence is now lashing the North Carolina coast with hurricane -force winds and a life-threatening storm surge. It says the threat of freshwater flooding will increase in coming hours and days from the storm’s heavy rains.
The Miami-based center said in an update at 11 p.m. EDT Thursday that the storm’s eye was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Morehead, City, North Carolina. The core is also about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina.
The storm is moving to the northwest at 90 mph (150 kph).
Forecasters say the center of Florence is expected to move inland between Friday and Saturday.
A North Carolina TV news station has evacuated its building due to rising waters from Hurricane Florence.
New Bern’s WCTI-TV NewsChannel 12 posted on Facebook on Thursday night that employees had to abandon the studio for the “first time in history.”
A spokesperson for the ABC affiliate said that roads around the building were flooding.
New Bern is a city along the Neuse River and is near the Atlantic coast, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Wilmington.
The station said on Facebook that it was broadcasting its sister station WPDE-TV’s coverage of the storm.
Utility crews from as far away as California and Canada have been brought to North Carolina to respond to what could be millions of power outages following Hurricane Florence.
As the crews gathered near the State Capitol in Raleigh on Thursday, dozens of trucks clogged the parking lots and lined the streets. Cherry pickers jutted into the darkening sky, and rusty utility pole drills stood at the ready.
With Duke Energy expecting up to 3 million power outages for its 4 million customers, power companies will need an extra hand.
New Brunswick, Canada-based Holland Power Services says it sent 100 vehicles and more than 250 workers to help Duke’s restoration efforts. A mile-long convoy of repair trucks could be seen moving between staging points in Raleigh.
So far, utilities have reported 80,000 customers without power because of Florence.
Millions either flee or prepare for mayhem
The tropical cyclone is expected to unload 10 trillion gallons of rainfall in North Carolina, weather.us meteorologist Ryan Maue said. That’s enough to fill more than 15 million Olympic-size swimming pools.
In the North Carolina town of Rodanthe, on Hatteras Island, Rebecca Well Hooper shot video of the pier early Thursday afternoon.
“There is some damage … but it is still standing strong. There is overwash but nothing we are not used to,” she said.
Despite days of warnings to evacuate, some residents are staying put — even if they don’t want to.
Cheryl Browning lives with her husband and son, who has terminal cancer, in Richlands, North Carolina. They also have three dogs and three parrots.
Browning’s choice to stay in the hurricane warning zone wasn’t easy, she said, but she “could not find anywhere to go.”
“Either no (hotel) rooms are available, or we are denied because the breed or size of dogs,” she said. “Many that will accept them only allow one per room. And since we have three dogs and three parrots, they’re requesting us to purchase two to six rooms.”
And there’s no way her family could afford that — or the $1,728 per room another hotel quoted. Other residents have told CNN they’re not evacuating because emergency shelters won’t accept pets.
“Since my husband retired and my health declined, we have his retirement as an income. He is the only caregiver to me and my son,” Browning said. “So since we can’t find anything within our means … we’ve opted to stay.”
Her neighbors gave her the key to their house, which is two stories and might be safer from flooding, she said. It’s a kind gesture but doesn’t alleviate Browning’s fear.
“I’m not going to lie: I’m scared,” she said. “But I think it’ll be OK.”
Browning said she had started a GoFundMe campaign in case repairs are needed for the family home.
Thousands bunk in shelters
More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate and authorities urged them to get going before the streets become inundated.
“Inland flooding kills a lot of people. … Please keep that in mind,” and consider leaving soon, Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said midmorning Thursday.
In North Carolina, Florence is expected to dump up to 40 inches of rain and storm surge will be high.
“Catastrophic effects will be felt outside the center of the storm due to storm surge,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday morning. “Tens of thousands of structures are expected to be flooded, and many more by rising rivers and creeks.”
In Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina, Mikey Zalloum of Uncle Mikey’s Brick Oven Pizza sweated as he worked feverishly to make pies Thursday night.
His bustling pizza restaurant is one of the few businesses open in the evacuated town.
Why is he open when the town is mostly evacuated? He said he has been through this many times in his 15 years in the Myrtle Beach area and that “nothing is going to happen.”
He said he usually doesn’t make the pizzas himself, but he was on Thursday because “everybody is scared,” including most of his staff.
Emergencies declared in several states
Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.
Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Isaac is forecast to approach the Lesser Antilles Islands on Thursday. Hurricane Helene is veering toward Ireland and Great Britain. And newly formed Subtropical Storm Joyce is not expected to threaten land soon.