Hurricane storm

Florence is not expected to officially make landfall until Friday morning, but the storm had already begun to batter the North Carolina coast with hurricane-force (75+ mph) winds and potentially deadly storm surge, the National Hurricane Center warned in its 8 p.m. public advisory.

“Life-threatening storm surge and rainfall expected,” according to the hurricane center.

Wind gusts of up to 97 mph were reported at a U.S. weather monitoring station at Cape Lookout, North Carolina, and 99 mph at Fort Macon, North Carolina, the hurricane center said in the evening advisory.

Storm surges, driven by the hurricane’s outer winds, beat the rain to some areas of North Carolina, where water rushed like rivers along streets on the Outer Banks. A short distance inland, downtown New Bern was flooding, and the city’s Union Point Park at the confluence of the Neuse and the Trent rivers was underwater.

Florence diminished to Category 2 strength but will remain powerful enough to sock the Carolinas with brutal wind, rain and storm surge. Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long urged people in mandatory evacuation areas to get out. And he warned that the storm cleanup will take time and patience.

“We call them disasters because they break things,” FEMA associate director Jeff Byard said. “The infrastructure is going to break.”

The storm was about 100 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 155 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as of 5 p.m. EDT. Hurricane-force winds extended almost 80 miles from the center, and Florence was poised to bring havoc well before making landfall.

That could happen sometime Friday, probably somewhere near Wilmington.