Tracking Hurricane Florence as storm lands in North Carolina

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A fallen tree lies atop the crushed roof of a fast food restaurant after the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018.

Tropical Storm Florence trudged inland on Saturday, flooding rivers and towns, toppling trees and cutting power to almost a million homes and businesses as it dumped huge amounts of rain on North and SC, causing five deaths.

The National Hurricane Center says the high winds - combined with rain-soaked soil - will cause many trees to fall in coming days, crashing into homes, streets and onto power lines. This is expected to cause "catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding".

Mandatory evacuations were ordered ahead of Florence's landfall in parts of North and SC, though many people chose to remain in their homes for reasons ranging from financial concerns and the need to care for pets that they may not have been able to take to some evacuation shelters, some who stayed in their residences told ABC News ahead of the storm. Its forward movement was 6 miles per hour (9 kph). Almost 900,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Carolinas early on Friday, utility officials said. A woman died a few miles north of that and two elderly men died in Lenoir County.

"Florence is here to stay for awhile", McMaster said from Columbia Friday afternoon.

At times, Florence was moving forward no faster than a human can walk, and it has remained such a wide storm that its counter-clockwise winds keep scooping up massive amounts of moisture from the sea. Some residents were anxious less about flooding and more about an extensive period without power.

In New Bern, along the coast, aerial photos show homes completely surrounded by water, with rescuers using inflatable boats to go house to house to remove people.

Forecasters believe the biggest danger right now is the water, not the wind.

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Screaming winds bent trees and raindrops flew sideways as Florence's leading edge battered the Carolina coast Thursday. But the center continued to warn about the threat of water.

Some towns have received more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of rain from Florence, and forecasters warned that drenching rains with as much as 3½ feet (1 meter) of water could trigger epic flooding well inland through early next week. About 210,000 people were staying in 170 shelters in the Carolinas.

Though Florence's shrieking winds diminished from hurricane force as it came ashore, forecasters said the sheer size of the 350-mile-wide storm and its painfully slow progress across North and SC in the coming days could leave much of the region under water.

Spanish moss waved in the trees as the winds picked up in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City.

Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The floodwaters are expected to push many rivers to all-time-high levels and, toward the mountains of western North Carolina and southwest Virginia, may spur life-threatening landslides. The storm has weakened to a Category 1, with wind speeds of 90 miles per hour.

And weather officials said more is coming, labeling as "extreme" the impacts from storm surge and flash flooding.

As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are "supplied and ready", and he disputed the official conclusion that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad. He said he had trimmed his own trees before the storm.

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