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Now a tropical storm, Florence’s sluggish pace promises to prolong misery

The eye of Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday morning and was downgraded to a tropical storm by the late afternoon. But the storm kept dumping rain, uprooting trees, flooding streets and battering towns with strong winds as it moved slowly inland. Most houses and buildings withstood the winds, but a woman and baby were killed when a tree was blown down on their home. P.J. Tobia reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Four dead, thousands in the dark and a string of towns flooded. Hurricane Florence crawled ashore in North Carolina early today with sustained winds of 90 miles an hour. By late afternoon, it was downgraded to a tropical storm, but kept dumping heavy rain

    P.J. Tobia a report from Wilmington, North Carolina, on a long day on the state's coast.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Whitecaps in the streets of New Bern, North Carolina, this morning, testimony to the huge size of the storm as the center made landfall 90 miles to the south.

    New Bern is cradled between two rivers that rose 10 feet overnight; 200 people had to be rescued by dawn.

  • Sabrina Bengel:

    We are continuing to do rescues throughout the community. People all night long have been in attics and roofs asking for help. And with all the resources we had, we got them out there. We are calling for more resources.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Staffers at local TV stations had to abandon their studios in the middle of hurricane coverage.

    Farther south, heavy flooding also hit Jacksonville, next door to Camp Lejeune. The eye of Florence made landfall just after 7:00 this morning in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, uprooting trees and flooding streets as it moved slowly inland.

    But Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said it could have been much worse.

  • Dan House:

    In the grand scheme of things, so far, we have gotten away really lucky. There wasn't a lot of damage. There were a few downed power lines, some building damage on a few buildings, but certainly less than what we expected.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    In the hours just before landfall, storm bands battered Wilmington about a dozen miles inland from Wrightsville Beach. Wind gusts reached 105 miles an hour, the highest recorded in the city since 1958.

    Most houses and buildings withstood the winds, but a woman and her baby were killed when a tree fell on their home. But blacked-out traffic like swung wildly from their wires over empty streets.

  • Andrew Polittle:

    Having come out in the morning and seen the winds, I have been out a couple times, I'm not surprised to see all this, like, devastation, all the leaves and the branches down.

    There was — I watched the sign on that building go flying away. It kind of peeled off.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    The battleship North Carolina, now a museum, lay undisturbed. But tree branches lay everywhere, and power outages piled up in the coastal region.

    Governor Roy Cooper warned the disruption is not limited to the eastern part of the state. Rain measured in feet could fall from Central North Carolina to the foothills farther west.

  • Gov. Roy Cooper. D-N.C.:

    This one is so widespread, you're going to have a hard time finding a North Carolinian who is not going to be affected by this storm in some way. I still think we don't know the magnitude yet of this storm, because it has just come ashore, and it's going to be here a long time.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    For families who moved to shelters, there was no way to tell how long it might be there.

  • Karen Caballero:

    We decided to come to the hotel because we live in somewhere where it was dangerous, where we were not going to be safe. We want to be safe. We want the — the best for our family, so that's why we came here.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    The hurricane's sluggish paste promises to prolong the misery , as it lumbers slowly southwestward along the coast.

    South Carolina began feeling the effects today. And Governor Henry McMaster forecast a long slog.

  • Gov. Henry McMaster, R-S.C.:

    This is something that we have not seen before, this much rain, a hurricane staying on top of us for this long. So that means, ladies and gentlemen, we're going to have to have patience.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    As it finally leaves the coast, Florence is expected to move west, then curve back towards the Mid-Atlantic by next week.

    Here in downtown Wilmington, the worst of Hurricane Florence's winds have passed. But tropical-storm-force gusts are still blowing through the streets. And the Cape Fear River broke its banks earlier this afternoon and has flooded parts of downtown — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    P.J., mentioned the mother and child who were killed. What more do you know about what happened?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    So that happened around 9:30 this morning. It was an eight-month-old baby and her mother were killed when a tree fell through the back of their home.

    The father of that child was also pinned beneath the tree, and also the roof that had fallen in on him. Police officials and fire officials here in Wilmington say that it took a long time to extricate him. They used special equipment, including pillows that expand. It required help from FEMA. It was a multiagency, intense effort. And he is now in the hospital.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such a tragedy.

    And, P.J., you have also been in touch with the police in New Bern, as you mentioned, about 90-some miles to the north, where they're dealing with flooding and rescues?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    That's exactly right. There's been terrible floods in the New Bern area. Since the storm hit, they rescued 360 people, mostly by boat and high-water vehicles. Another 140 people are still yet to be rescued. Police and fire officials say that they're working as hard as they can to get to those folks, also a multiagency effort involving FEMA.

    And you may remember the Cajun Navy. These are just average Joes from Louisiana and Texas who bring their own boats and help out authorities. They were very active in Hurricane Harvey. They're helping out here today in Florence as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just finally, quickly, P.J., people are out and about. I see some around behind you.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Yes, that's right. And they really shouldn't be according to officials.

    And just from driving around ourselves today, we have seen lots of downed power lines. Trees are everywhere. This city has but many beautiful, old historic trees. A lot of them are on top of houses tonight. And so it's still raining.

    So, as I said earlier, the floodwaters are rising. Streets are flooding. There's a lot of ponding on streets. So folks really should stay put, because this storm is not done with Eastern North Carolina just yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That seems clear. It's been downgraded, as we said, to a tropical storm, but still a danger.

    P.J. Tobia, thank you very much.

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