North America

Florence weakens to tropical storm, leaves at least five dead

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Five people have died as Hurricane Florence tore through North Carolina, with a mother and baby falling victim to the storm after a tree fell on their house.

Hurricane Florence has barrelled into the Carolina coast and moved inland, knocking down trees, overflowing rivers, dumping sheets of rain and leading to the death of five people before it was downgraded to a tropical storm still capable of wreaking havoc.

A mother and her baby died when a tree fell on their home in Wilmington, North Carolina.

The child's injured father was taken to a hospital. Another woman died of a heart attack; paramedics trying to reach her were blocked by debris.

A 78-year-old man was electrocuted attempting to connect extension cords while another man perished when he was blown down by high winds while checking on his hunting dogs.

Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale with 195km/h winds as of Thursday, but dropped to a Category 1 hurricane before coming ashore.

The National Hurricane Center downgraded it to a tropical storm on Friday , but warned that life-threatening storm surges - in which water is pushed by a storm over land that would normally be dry - catastrophic freshwater flooding were still expected.

The centre of the hurricane's eye came ashore close to Wilmington, with sustained winds of 150km/h the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

A dog is rescued from floodwaters in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
A dog is rescued from floodwaters in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
AAP

By Friday evening, the centre of the storm had moved to eastern South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.

Parts of North and South Carolina were forecast to get as much as one metre of rain.

More than 60 people, including many children, were evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds collapsed part of the roof. Many of the evacuees took their pets.

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

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The White House said on Friday President Donald Trump had spoken with state and local officials, assuring them the federal government was prepared to help. Trump planned a visit to the region next week.

Nearly 900,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Carolinas early on Friday, utility officials said. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and restoration could take weeks.

The storm was expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said. Significant weakening was expected over the weekend.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm. 

Swansboro, North Carolina
Hurricane Florence is battering North Carolina with wild winds and a powerful storm surge. (AAP)

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