WILMINGTON (CBSMiami/CNN) – At least five people, including a mother and her infant, have died in North Carolina as Tropical Storm Florence. slowly moved from the Tar Heel State into South Carolina, officials said Friday.
After coming ashore in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday afternoon and trudged into South Carolina as night came.
Two people died in Wilmington after a tree fell on their house, the city’s police department said.
“WPD can confirm the first two fatalities of Hurricane #Florence in Wilmington. A mother and infant were killed when a tree fell on their house,” police tweeted Friday afternoon. “The father was transported to (New Hanover Regional Medical Center) with injuries.”
The hospital said it has received three injured patients.
With Friday’s 5 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Florence had been downgraded to a tropical storm.
In the town of Hampstead, emergency responders going to a call for cardiac arrest Friday morning found their path blocked by downed trees. When they got to the home, the woman was deceased, Chad McEwen, assistant county manager for Pender County, said.
Florence is inching along after making landfall hours earlier in North Carolina, trapping people in flooded homes and promising days of destruction and human suffering.
Making landfall Friday morning around 7 a.m. near Wrightsville Beach, Florence has reared its ugly head.
Ninety mile per hour winds toppled canopies, snapped tree branches, and sent debris flying. Wilmington’s airport recorded a 92-mph wind gust Friday morning — the fastest measured since Hurricane Donna hit the city in 1960.
“We could hear the wind racing by, we could feel the building creaking and the windows bending a little. They do seem like they’re sturdy and strong,” said Wilmington resident Matt Baumgardner.
“The trees are blowing back and forth and splitting and all the leaves are coming off of it. When we got up this morning it looked like winter because there were no leaves on the tree. Last night when we went bed they were fully covered with leaves,” said Ruth Ryan.
“We heard the banging on the roof and the crinkling sheet metal. I went up on the roof and the entire roof was gone,” said resident Don Lashley.
Just steps from his house is the Cape Fear River. As the storm slowly moved storm surge pushed up the river, reversing the flow, causing water to pour into the street.
“This is storm surge coming up, pushing up from the ocean and everything right now. You can see it moving pretty quick,” Dave Chick, area resident, said.
Water from the Cape Fear River, along with heavy rain, left about a foot of standing water in parking lots. Ruth and Ray Ryan stayed in town, getting away from their home on the coast. Now, they wonder what they’ll return to, they know their area was hit by powerful storm surge and wind.
“We figure we’ve lost everything on our first level, it can all be replaced but we can’t replace us. And our dogs are with our daughter. It is what it is,” said Ruth Ryan.
Coastal and river communities on the north side of Florence are getting the worst of the flooding as the hurricane swirls onto land pushing a life-threatening storm surge.
“Up to 40 inches of rain, and storm surges pushing water inland and not allowing rivers to drain, will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center. “You’re going to have flooding miles and miles inland.”
Storm surge soaked the town of Belhaven, North Carolina in ten feet of water. In Morehead City, Florence damaged buildings and stacked debris in the parking lot.
In New Bern, more than 200 people needed to be rescued. New Bern sits between the Neuse River and Trent River, both of which rose above their banks.
New Bern resident Peggy Perry said CNN she and three relatives were trapped inside her home early Friday.
“In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest,” she said. “We are stuck in the attic.”
“We have been up here for like three or four hours,” Perry added, “and there’s no windows up here in the attic, so I put a light in the window so they would know someone’s here.”
City officials said help is on the way.
“We are continuing to do rescues throughout the community. People all night long have been in attics and roofs, asking for help. And with the resources we had, we got them out, we are calling for more resources,” said Sabrina Bengel, an alderman in New Bern. “As soon as the winds die down, we can get additional resources. We’re bringing them in, to try and get as many people rescued as we can. This has been an undaunting task for our city officials.”
Forecasters say that catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected over portions of the Carolinas.
More than 415-thousand homes and businesses were without power Friday morning according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the nation’s electrical grid.
“Our power just went out, instantly. We weren’t expecting it, it was way early, we were trying to charge our things for the storm to come and it already went out,” said Wilmington resident Michelle Morawski.
Officials say millions of people may be left without electricity and it could be weeks before it’s all fully restored.
Another major concern is flooding that is expected to wreak havoc over the next few days.
“Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense, and patience,” said North Carolina Roy Cooper.
More than a million and a half people were ordered to evacuate and now many are wondering what will be left when they return.
“We’re concerned. We don’t know what we’re going to go back to, you know what I mean,” said Shallotte, North Carolina resident Aldridge Reed who fled to Jacksonville.
Conditions are expected to worsen as the storm continues to work its way inland. Florence’s center may linger for another whole day along coastal North and South Carolina, punishing homes with crushing winds and floods and endangering those who’ve stayed behind.
North Carolina has already asked the White House to declare another federal state of emergency in anticipation of a long and difficult clean-up.
(©2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to this report.)