Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, early Friday morning, thrashing the already battered coast with hurricane-force winds and heavy rains that officials warned could trigger catastrophic floods further inland.
The National Hurricane Center said Florence’s eyewall made landfall at about 7:15 a.m. a few miles east of Wilmington, with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph that pushed life-threatening storm surges miles inland, and, combined with a persistent pelting rain, severely damaged buildings.
NEW: #Hurricane #Florence has made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina at 7:15 AM EDT (1115 UTC) with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph (150 km/h), and a minimum central pressure estimate of 958 mb (28.29"). https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter.com/vzpe6MjTf9
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 14, 2018
A few hours after landfall, forecasters said Florence was slowly wobbling southwestward just off the coast of southern North Carolina.
At 9 a.m., the center of the hurricane was about 55 miles east of Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Forecasters said the terrifying onslaught would last for several hours, because Florence was barely moving along and still drawing energy from the ocean. They said “catastrophic” freshwater flooding was expected along waterways throughout the Carolinas.
Officials said Friday they expected the same amount of rainfall seen during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. However, instead of rainfall over 14 days, Florence will bring it over 3 days.
“Twenty-four to 36 hours remain of significant threat from heavy rain and heavy surge,” said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Those citizens who did not heed evacuation warnings, it’s time to stay where you are, do the best that you can to protect yourself."
Hurricane Florence @ midnight 9.13.18Pungo River is raging across Belhaven, NCStay safe y’all! pic.twitter.com/zYbKCKBLnY
— Michelle ? (@chromatichues) September 14, 2018
There were no immediate reports of any deaths.
The USGS said the tide in Emerald Isle, N.C. was 7 feet above sea level, while coastal streets flowed with frothy ocean water. Nearly 46 miles farther up the waterfront, in New Bern, about 150 people were waiting to be rescued from floods on the Neuse River, WXII-TV reported.
“(It’s) very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing sideways, debris flying,” Sandie Orsa of Wilmington, told the Associated Press, from a hotel lobby lit by emergency lights after the power failed.
More than 485,000 people had already lost power by 9:30 a.m. Friday with the highest concentration in Beaufort, Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Robeson, Sampson, Wake and Wayne Counties, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety reported.
Forecasters said conditions will continue to deteriorate as the storm creeps inland. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph, the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to seek shelter and stay alert.
"Don’t relax, don’t get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality," Cooper said.
Incredible job being done by FEMA, First Responders, Law Enforcement and all. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2018
Soon after Florence made landfall, President Trump touted the work from FEMA and first responders.
“Incredible job being done by FEMA, First Responders, Law Enforcement and all. Thank you!” he wrote.
Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it’s unclear how many did. The homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
In Jacksonville, N.C., about 70 occupants – including an infant, other children, and pets – were evacuated from the Triangle Motor Inn after hurricane-force winds collapsed portions of the hotel’s roof. The evacuees were taken to the Jacksonville Center for Public Safety while authorities searched for more permanent quarters during the storm. Jacksonville is about 60 miles northeast of Wilmington.
Forecasters said that given the storm’s size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang