Death toll continues to rise in southeastern NC due to Hurricane Florence

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With winds picking up along the coastline earlier Thursday, federal and state officials had issued final appeals to residents to get out of the path of the "once in a lifetime" weather system.

"Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless", North Carolina governor Roy Cooper said.

"This is an uninvited brute that just won't leave", he told NBC. "We're ready. We're as ready as anybody has ever been".

By Friday evening, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm, its winds weakening to 70 miles per hour as it pushed inland.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles.

"Some of the rainfall totals we're getting are already adding up to about 14 inches", NHC Director Ken Graham said shortly after 11 a.m. ET.

Its storm surge and the prospect of 1-3ft of rain were considered a bigger threat than its winds, which had dropped off from an alarming 140mph earlier in the week.

Wake County, which includes the state capital Raleigh, opened three new shelters Thursday that it said could hold as many as 1,100 people.

Along the coast, floodwaters have been hitting inland towns near rivers that normally discharge into the ocean.

In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River left 500 people in peril. As Cooper said, "There's nowhere for the water to go".

Parker says water levels in some areas of Craven County are already higher than levels from Hurricane Irene.

Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather with his dog Canelo.

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In the days leading up to the arrival of Hurricane Florence, North Carolina's governor offered a series of dire warnings.

In aggregate, this can have serious repercussions for businesses that aren't dedicated to fixing up cars and clearing water damage: according to one estimate, retailers suffered $1 billion in negative impacts from Hurricane Harvey and almost $2.8 billion from Hurricane Irma, including damage to stores and warehouses as well as lost sales.

In New Bern, where a curfew was in place, city authorities said at least 150 people were awaiting rescue. "You rock! We couldn't have done it without you!" the city tweeted on Saturday.

More than a million people fled the Carolinas and Virginia as Category 1 Hurricane Florence neared. The Philippines placed the main Luzon island under storm alert and said as many as 824,000 Filipinos may have to be evacuated before the storm hits land in the northern province of Cagayan overnight. But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind.

Resident Jay Manning said he and his wife watched with alarm as water filled the street. "I'm in chest deep water, I need help, I need you to rescue me", she says.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said the US electricity sector has been well prepared for Hurricane Florence even as hundreds of thousands of homes lose power in the storm.

Officials have warned against entering attics, unless people have a means to cut through to the roof to avoid drowning.

The Wilmington airport had a wind gust clocked at 169 km/hr the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958.

More ominously, forecasters said the onslaught on the coast would last for hours and hours because Florence had come nearly to a dead halt at just 3 mph (6 kph) as of midday. It will likely weaken more on Friday, with "rapid weakening forecast over the weekend", the hurricane center said.

"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged, significant river flooding", the hurricane center said.

Storm surge was as high as 10 feet on the Neuse River, he said.

It diminished from hurricane force as it came ashore, but forecasters said the 350-mile-wide storm's slow progress across North and SC could leave much of the region under water in the coming days. Forecasters said the onslaught could last for days, leaving a wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising seas.