Hurricane Florence deluges the Carolinas

By Thursday morning the Cape Fear River near downtown Wilmington was already rising

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper confirmed the death of the man who was electrocuted outside, CNN reported. An investigation is underway, but officials said it appears there's no reason for others at the shelter to worry.

Thursday, a company spokesman said they had brought in around 20,000 linemen - almost half of them from out of state.

As 400-mile-wide (645-kilometer-wide) Florence pounded away at the coast with torrential downpours and surging seas, rescue crews used boats to reach more than 360 people besieged by rising waters in New Bern, while many of their neighbors awaited help.

Forecasters warned that drenching rains of 1 to 3½ feet (30 centimeters to 1 meter) as the hurricane-turned-tropical storm crawls westward across North and SC could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.

Forecasts call for the eye to hit land sometime Friday near the Carolinas border.

As of 2 a.m., Florence was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.

The storm is forecast to creep along the coast, dumping lots of water and lashing the area with winds.

Within hours of the storm making landfall, officials in Onslow County - which includes the city of Jacksonville, reported "major structural damage to homes, businesses and institutions". As of Saturday, about 676,000 homes and businesses were without power in North Carolina, along with 119,000 in SC. More than 20,000 people in North Carolina spent the night in emergency shelters Friday night.

Near the Sutton Power Plant in Wilmington, coal ash leaked from a Duke Energy landfill.

On Thursday morning, a tweet from South Carolina's Emergency Management Division brought this perspective on Florence's sheer size: It's "larger than SC and North Carolina combined".

Florence is expected to slowly move west-southwest through early Saturday.

Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that was later downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a Wilmington hotel several miles inland.

Farther south, in Carolina Beach, the northern end of the town was being swamped as water crashed over the dunes.

Strong high pressure to the north is likely to enhance winds, wave action and coastal flooding farther north along the coast than what would normally occur.

"For our customers, I know they normally expect to see us immediately after the storm rolls through, but it's not safe for us to be out there working", he said. "Our meteorologists are saying that the rainfall amounts will be devastating in certain areas", he said Thursday.

The National Weather Service said as much as 18cm of rain had fallen overnight in some coastal areas.

Forecasters are predicting the massive storm's relentless rains have the potential to produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding while also contributing to the potential for landslides across the mountains.

In Shallotte, N.C., a coastal town near the border with SC, emergency orders forced a Waffle House to shut down - an act that was widely seen as a sign of respect for Florence's imposing size and strength.

Roughly 1 million people are under evacuation orders. Georgia, where governor Nathan Deal has now declared an emergency, is also thought to be in the firing line.

Its hurricane-force winds extend up to 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the centre, and its tropical storm-force winds extend up to 315 kilometres (195 miles).

With gusts upward of 110 miles per hour already battering the Carolina coastline, storm surges have already started to destroy homes and overflow onto roads.

As has been the case with hurricanes in most recent years, such as Lane in Hawaii earlier this summer and Harvey last year in Texas, feet of rain can fall when these tropical storms stall. It's moving westward across the eastern Caribbean, where it's expected to bring up to 5 inches of rain across Puerto Rico.

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