Hurricane Florence: first fatalities reported as half a million lose power | World news

Hurricane Florence pounded the Carolinas coast on Friday with 90mph winds and life-threatening storm surge, as the slow-moving storm cut power to more than half a million households and caused its first fatalities. .

A mother and her infant child were killed by a tree that fell on their house, police in Wilmington, North Carolina confirmed on Friday afternoon. The child’s father was taken to hospital with injuries.

Florence made landfall as a category one hurricane on Friday morning just outside Wilmington, where trees were bent almost to the ground by winds that gusted at 105mph. Fifty miles north, in Jacksonville, more than 60 occupants of a motel were forced to evacuate as the building crumbled. Further north, in the city of New Bern, authorities were scrambling to reach around 150 people stranded by flooding.

Forecasters have warned of historic rainfall along the Carolina coast as the storm crawls south-west towards South Carolina at just 3mph. Severe freshwater flooding is expected in the following days as the region braces for an extended period of extreme weather.

Donald Trump praised the “incredible job” being done by Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) workers and first-responders on the ground in an early morning tweet. The president was still facing criticism over his attempt to downplay the almost 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017, a toll he suggested had been inflated by his political opponents.

Firefighters work to remove a tree that fell on a house during Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina on Friday.

Firefighters work to remove a tree that fell on a house during Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina. Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

On the streets of Wilmington, residents emerged to inspect the damage after the eye of the storm passed over the historic port city as debris littered the streets.

The storm surge in Wilmington was expected to top off at 13ft (4 metres). The next major population centre in Florence’s path, Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, was lashed with rain and gusts throughout Friday morning. The storm was expected to reach the city, which has a population of 30,000, by the evening. Evacuation orders were in place throughout the Carolina coastline.

Although the roads in Myrtle Beach remained eerily quiet, the Waffle House, a chain restaurant known throughout the American south, remained open, serving an emergency menu. Workers said they would keep the store open even if they lost power and endured minor flooding.

In one of the city’s low-income housing communities, Sandygate Village, many residents reported being unable to evacuate due to the financial burden.

Henry Mitchell, 57, who is disabled and unemployed, said: “It’s too expensive to move out to a hotel. I could be out for days and I can’t afford to leave my home behind.”

The housing blocks are a few hundred feet from the Waccamaw river, which forecasters were expecting to flood significantly during and after the hurricane.

In Conway, about eight miles north of Myrtle Beach, 27-year-old Rocky Session spent Friday morning making last-minute adjustments to his trailer home – a few bars of wood over the windows.

“I feel a little bit better,” he said “But this will probably be all flooded later today.”

He added: “I’m pretty sure my trailer’s not gonna blow away – it’s strapped down – but I’m worried about flooding.”

Session and his wife, Holly Dew, evacuated their single-storey home on Thursday and were staying in a nearby hotel. They would have moved further, they said, but Dew’s mother, Deborah, is in intensive care in the Conway Medical Center hospital, too sick to move.

About 2,200 patients in seven South Carolina hospitals had already been evacuated.

The storm will be a major test for Fema, a year after the agency was criticised for its response to Maria in Puerto Rico.

About 9,700 national guard troops and civilians were stationed throughout the area with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats for use in rescue operations in the aftermath.

The National Hurricane Center projected that Florence will eventually turn towards the north-east over the southern Appalachians, moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England as a tropical depression by the middle of next week.

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