Florence kills 5, including infant, in North Carolina, officials say

As rescuers battled strong winds and debris-filled floodwaters to pluck hundreds of stranded people from their homes, officials confirmed at least three deaths from the monster storm, while United States media reported a fourth.

A gust of 169km/h was recorded at Wilmington airport, surpassing the power of Hurricane Fran two decades ago.

At least five fatalities were reported Friday because of Florence, including a mother and infant. The father was taken to hospital with unspecified injuries.

Atlantic Beach, located on the state's Outer Banks barrier islands, had received 76cm of rain, the US Geological Survey said.

The third death happened in Hampstead, Pender County when a woman had a medical emergency and EMS crews could not get to her due to the storm, according to Tom Collins, Director of Emergency Management.

Hundreds of people needed to be rescued after becoming trapped in their homes by a storm surge of up to 10 feet (three meters) in New Bern, a town of 30,000 in North Carolina at the confluence of the Trent and Neuse rivers. The hurricane, which has been downgraded from a category four storm to a category two, is not expected to weaken any further before it hits the coast.

Some residents ignored calls to evacuate. "It came in slowly but then it just steady, just kept rising", Annazette Riley-Cromartie said.

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.

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One team from Maryland helped with about 40 rescues in New Bern starting Thursday, member Mitchell Rusland said.

"This storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days", Cooper said.

Video posted on Twitter showed a meteorologist telling viewers they'd be taken to coverage from its sister station WPDE in Myrtle Beach before walking offscreen.

In Morehead City, Brooke Kittrell rode out the storm Thursday and Friday with her boyfriend aboard their docked boat, hoping it didn't break loose and slam something.

"Honestly, I grew up in Wilmington". "North Carolinians are resilient and we're going to pull together and get this thing done".

"I about jumped out of my skin", he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday morning.

The National Hurricane Center says that "catastrophic" freshwater flooding is expected over portions of the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence inches closer to the U.S. East Coast. But that, combined with the storm's slowing forward movement and heavy rains, had Gov. Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster. "Florence may be weakening but will have a large storm surge".

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