MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) - The Latest on Hurricane Florence (all times local):
Image Source: MSNBC / MGN
Florence has been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane with top sustained winds of 90 mph.
The National Hurricane Center said that Florence is now lashing the North Carolina coast with hurricane -force winds and a life-threatening storm surge. It says the threat of freshwater flooding will increase in coming hours and days from the storm's heavy rains.
The Miami-based center said in an update at 11 p.m. EDT Thursday that the storm's eye was about 50 miles south of Morehead, City, North Carolina. The core is also about 60 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina.
The storm is moving to the northwest at 6 mph.
Forecasters said that the center of Florence is expected to move inland between Friday and Saturday.
Far out in the Atlantic, Joyce strengthened into a tropical storm on Thursday evening with top sustained winds of 40 mph. The center says that storm is about 1,040 miles west-southwest of the Azores and no coastal watches or warnings are in effect. Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Helene is forecast to pass near the Azores on Saturday, and Tropical Storm Isaac is moving west across the eastern Caribbean.
A North Carolina TV news station has evacuated its building due to rising waters from Hurricane Florence.
New Bern's WCTI-TV NewsChannel 12 posted on Facebook on Thursday night that employees had to abandon the studio for the "first time in history."
A spokesperson for the ABC affiliate said that roads around the building were flooding.
New Bern is a city along the Neuse River and is near the Atlantic coast, about 90 miles northeast of Wilmington.
The station said on Facebook that it was broadcasting its sister station WPDE-TV's coverage of the storm.
Utility crews from as far away as California and Canada have been brought to North Carolina to respond to what could be millions of power outages following Hurricane Florence.
As the crews gathered near the State Capitol in Raleigh on Thursday, dozens of trucks clogged the parking lots and lined the streets. Cherry pickers jutted into the darkening sky, and rusty utility pole drills stood at the ready.
With Duke Energy expecting up to 3 million power outages for its 4 million customers, power companies will need an extra hand.
New Brunswick, Canada-based Holland Power Services says it sent 100 vehicles and more than 250 workers to help Duke's restoration efforts. A mile-long convoy of repair trucks could be seen moving between staging points in Raleigh.
So far, utilities have reported 80,000 customers without power because of Florence.
The North Carolina Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice has evacuated several thousand adult and juvenile offenders and staff from facilities threatened by the effects of Hurricane Florence.
More than 3,000 offenders have been relocated from facilities in the path of Hurricane Florence. Four county jails have also been evacuated with more than 300 offenders housed temporarily in state facilities.
A news release from the division Wednesday said all adult offenders affected by the move will be allowed to make a free phone call to a family member over the weekend.
The division said leaders made the decision earlier in the week to evacuate three juvenile detention centers and relocate inmates to inland facilities within the system. Officials said 26 youth were moved and their families notified.
The news release said all offenders will be moved back to the affected facilities once the storm subsides and it's deemed safe for operations to continue.
Power outages in North Carolina have increased as a weakened and slower Hurricane Florence moves closer to the coast.
The two major electric utilities covering the state -Duke Energy and Dominion- and a consortium of electric cooperatives reported more than 80,000 customers without power as of early Thursday evening. That doesn't include numbers from dozens of city-operated electricity providers.
Almost two-thirds of the reported outages originated in Carteret County, along with the coast about 100 miles northeast of Wilmington, North Carolina. There were also several thousand outages each in Craven, Pamlico and Onslow counties.
The numbers are expected to soar as the storm's winds and torrential rains sweep over more land. Duke anticipates 1 million to 3 million of their 4 million customers in the Carolinas will lose power from Florence.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said there are over 12,000 people in 126 shelters as the first effects of Hurricane Florence begin to batter the state.
Cooper spoke at a news conference Thursday afternoon with state emergency management officials. The governor said tens of thousands are without power and roads are beginning to flood along the coast.
The governor said those were "early warnings of the days to come."
Cooper said officials are also in the process of opening more shelters because demand is expected to continue to increase.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said residents should shelter in place and stay off the roads as Hurricane Florence starts to come ashore in the Carolinas and its effects make their way north.
Northam spoke at a news conference Thursday with emergency management officials. He says parts of Virginia will likely see tropical storm-force winds, flooding and several inches (centimeters) of rain.
Although the forecast for Virginia is less severe than earlier in the week, Northam said, "now is not the time to let down our guard."
He notes that forecasts for the weekend show a continued threat to southwest Virginia as the storm is expected to make a gradual northerly turn.
Jeff Stern is the state's coordinator of emergency management. He said there are nearly 400 people in shelters across the state.
A flight-tracking service said airlines have canceled more than 1,500 flights through Saturday.
FlightAware said that was the number as of Thursday evening.
At least 140 flights were canceled Thursday in both Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, although that amounted to only around 8 percent of flights at the sprawling Charlotte airport. Several airports along the coast were virtually shut down.
South Carolina's most popular tourist destination is like a ghost town.
North Myrtle Beach was nearly empty Thursday as the first bands of heavy rain from Hurricane Florence approached.
A few locals briefly walked into the sand but were quickly sandblasted back by stiff winds.
One man tried to skimboard but gave up after a few minutes as winds from the land cut down the waves. He called the ocean "Lake Myrtle" as he walked back to his car.
There were several hundred feet of sand between the dunes and ocean as a low tide approached around 5 p.m. Thursday. The sky occasionally spit a drop or two of rain, but the steady rain bands remained to the north.
A police officer sat nearby to talk to anyone who ventured too close to the surf.
The area called the Grand Strand attracts 18 million visitors a year. On Thursday, every restaurant, beachwear shop and mini golf course was closed.
Hurricane Florence is gradually slowing and weakening as its eye nears land.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the Category 2 storm was centered about 100 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 155 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its forward movement was 5 mph and top sustained winds stayed at 100 mph.
Florence's outer bands of wind and rain began lashing North Carolina on Thursday. Its center will approach the coast later Thursday and make landfall around the North Carolina-South Carolina line.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say the storm will weaken after landfall but also linger, dumping heavy rains for days.
Florence's hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 195 miles from the eye.