Florence hovers over coastal states, raising fears of epic flooding

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     HURRICANE FLORENCE Brave volunteers defy the danger and continue to rescue residents and pets

Florence already has proven deadly with its almost nonstop rain, surging seawater and howling winds, and the threats are days from ending as remnants from what was a major hurricane swirl over the Carolinas.

More than 2 feet of rain had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on, with forecasters saying there could be an additional 1½ feet before Sunday is out.

A disaster has been declared by US President Donald Trump in eight counties in North Carolina - a move that will help free up federal funding for recovery efforts.

In an update published at 5:33 a.m. ET on Saturday, the agency said that the storm is now striking SC and has a path through the in-land charted for the next few days.

"We have 4,200 damaged homes", he said, urging residents to not wade out into the streets because of the dangers posed by downed power lines.

Tropical Storm Florence, downgraded from a hurricane Friday, remains over the Grand Strand Saturday with the National Weather Service warning of potential flash flooding and storm surge. Dozens more were rescued from a collapsed motel.

Florence flattened trees, damaged buildings and crumpled roads.

Though the popular North Carolina tourist destination seems to have been spared the worst of Florence's wrath, the islands still have some of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the world, almost an inch a year. A 78-year-old man was electrocuted attempting to connect extension cords while another man died when he was blown down by high winds while checking on his hunting dogs, a county spokesman said.

"The fact that there haven't been more deaths and damage is awesome and a blessing", said Rebekah Roth, walking around Wilmington's Winoca Terrace neighborhood on Saturday.

Storm surges - the bulge of ocean water pushed ashore by the hurricane - were as high as 10 feet.

As of 2:00 pm (1800 GMT), maximum sustained winds had weakened to near 45 miles (75 kilometers) per hour, but the NHC warned residents of risky storm surges and "catastrophic flooding". It blew ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.

Utility crews worked to restore electricity even as flood waters inundated whole communities.

Parts of North and SC were forecast to get as much as 40 inches of rain (1 meter).

At 5 p.m., Florence had been downgraded to a tropical storm, with sustained winds of 70 miles per hour.

Along with this projection, NHC warned of "life-threatening" storm surges and floods throughout both North Carolina and SC.

By Saturday, Florence's death toll had already risen to seven.

The hurricane center said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a right hook to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.

- An 81-year-old man died while trying to evacuate Wayne County, North Carolina, on Friday, the state's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay, or cover the entire state of Texas with almost 4 inches (10 centimeters) of water.

North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons (36 trillion liters), enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimeters).

In South Carolina's Myrtle Beach, Victor Shamah, the owner of The Bowery bar, chose to open because people "wanted to eat, they didn't have any place to eat". "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU". Many of them are boat owners, who help rescue stricken flood victims.

"The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard ... We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees", said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor's appointment that was later cancelled.

More than 100 people were rescued and up to 75 more were awaiting rescue on Saturday morning, according to a town official.

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