Calls for help from people trapped in their cars, in their attics and on rooftops are already coming in as Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina early Friday.
In New Bern, North Carolina – where forecasters say the Neuse River could experience 11 feet of storm surge, more than 150 people were reported to be trapped late on Thursday. The city’s official Twitter account urged residents to move to the upper floors of their homes.
Hurricane Florence – now a Category 1 – officially made landfall at 7:15 a.m. Friday near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., 80 miles south of New Bern. Forecasters warn it will bring “catastrophic freshwater flooding,” according to the National Hurricane Center.
By then, Craven County had already gotten more than 100 calls from people who said they were trapped in their homes and in vehicles, public information officer Amber Parker tells TIME Friday morning. Some residents have reported that they are trapped in their attics and on their roofs as storm surge has flooded the lower levels of their homes.
Five county swift-board teams as well as the “Cajun Navy” from Louisaiana are attempting to rescue everyone they can.
“But with conditions with the way they are, there are some area where it’s just not safe to perform rescues,” Parker says. She adds: “You have wind, high water, rushing water, downed trees and downed power lines – not to mention it’s dark out.”
All of the areas where calls for help have come were under mandatory evacuation orders beginning at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. And this is just the beginning. Parker says.
“Right now we have extreme flooding and storm surge. We have wind and rain. We have Hurricane Florence just sort of hovering over the area right now and we expect expect it to continue doing that for some time.”
The storm is moving inland at a speed of 6 mph and conditions are likely to deteriorate as it pushes its way southwest along the coast Friday through Saturday.
Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 storm late Thursday, and now contains maximum sustained winds of 90 mph with higher gusts. But the National Hurricane Center is still warning of life-threatening storm surges, with as much as 11ft of ocean water expected to cover the Carolina coast.
Authorities main concern with Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, rather than high winds. As the slow-moving storm moves over the Carolinas, it could pummel towns with more than 3 feet of rainwater.
Bill Saffo, Mayor of Wilmington, near where the storm hit, told CNN he had never seen a storm stay over his town as long as Florence is forecast to. “I’ve lived here all my life. I have never seen a hurricane that is literally going to be with us for two days,” he said.
1.7 million people have been ordered to evacuate across the East Coast and around 10 million are under hurricane watches.
The impact of the storm is already being felt by those caught in its path.
On social media, people caught in the storm are posting dramatic videos of flooding and high winds. By midnight, Amy Johnson in Belhaven, North Carolina, on the Pungo River posted a video of raging floodwaters that had inundated the first floor of her home.
The National Weather Service shared images of Union Point on the shore at New Bern before and after the storm surge hit.
In Morehead City, an NWS Meteorologist captured dramatic footage of rain water sweeping through a parking lot.
The NWS reported “lots of tree damage, debris and power lines down” across Harkers Island, N.C.
Further south, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, more than 60 people were evacuated from a hotel after police received a 911 call just before 1am, the city’s public safety department said in a statement.
An officer inspecting the Triangle Motor Inn found a “basketball-sized hole” in a corner room and firefighters said the building had suffered life-threatening structural damage.
Jacksonville Public Safety spokesperson Beth Purcell tells TIME that flood waters have not yet reached Jacksonville, but that conditions are “very poor.”
The storm is already causing power outages, with Duke Energy reporting nearly 240,000 customers have lost power in North and South Carolina – but projects 1 to 3 million people could lose power.