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Florence Latest: At least five storm-related deaths, including mother and infant, reported in North Carolina

PENDER COUNTY, N.C. — At least five people, including a mother and her infant, have died in North Carolina as Tropical Storm Florence slowly moves from the Tar Heel State into South Carolina, officials said Friday.

After coming ashore in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday afternoon and trudged into South Carolina as night came.

Two people died in Wilmington after a tree fell on their house, the city's police department said.

"WPD can confirm the first two fatalities of Hurricane #Florence in Wilmington. A mother and infant were killed when a tree fell on their house," the city's police department tweeted Friday afternoon. "The father was transported to (New Hanover Regional Medical Center) with injuries."

Officials also said a woman died after suffering a heart attack Friday morning, according to Pender County Emergency Management public information officer Tammy Proctor.

Officials said the woman was in a mandatory evacuation zone at the time of her death.

Emergency responders were not able to immediately get to her aid because of downed trees, Proctor said.

Crews used a front loader — a machine typically used in construction to move large materials — to attempt to clear the road.

Proctor said that's when tree crashed through the front loader's windshield.

"We’re very fortunate" that no one inside was injured, Proctor said.

The woman was later found and pronounced dead.

The fourth person who died was a man in Lenoir County who was plugging a cord into a generator, Gov. Roy Cooper's office said.

Storm surges, punishing winds and rain are turning some towns into rushing rivers -- and the Category 1 hurricane is expected to crawl over parts of the Carolinas into the weekend, pounding some of the same areas over and over.

"The storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents at a news conference.

In the besieged city of New Bern, North Carolina, rescuers had plucked more than 200 people from rising waters by midmornin, but about 150 more had to wait as conditions worsened and a storm surge reached 10 feet, officials said.

Florence's rain will bring 40 inches to some parts of the Carolinas, forecasters said. Rainfall totals will be similar to those in hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in 1999, the National Weather Service's Chris Wamsley said

"The only difference is, back then it was within 14 days," he said. With Florence, "we're looking at the same amount of rainfall in three days."

By Friday morning, Florence already had:

• Sapped power to more than 620,000 customers in North and South Carolina, emergency officials said.

• Forced 26,000 people into more than 200 emergency shelters across the Carolinas.

• Pushed more than 60 people to evacuate from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after part of the roof collapsed, city officials said.

• Prompted 4,000 National Guard soldiers and 40,000 electric workers to mobilize in response.

• Canceled more than 1,100 flights along the East Coast on Friday and Saturday.

Key developments

• Florence's location: By 3 p.m., Florence's center was about 35 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and was crawling at 6 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.

• Prolonged, dangerous winds: Hurricane-force winds extend 70 miles from Florence's center. The storm is expected to lumber into far southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina through Saturday, punishing the area with rain and damaging winds.

• Flooding for miles: Up to 40 inches of rain, and storm surges pushing water inland and not allowing rivers to drain, "will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding," the National Hurricane Center says. "You're going to have flooding miles and miles inland," the center's director, Ken Graham, said.

• Areas threatened: A hurricane warning is in place for South Santee River in South Carolina to Bogue Inlet and Pamlico Sound, North Carolina. Surges of 10 feet were reported early Friday in Morehead City and elsewhere in North Carolina, the National Weather Service said.

• Record gusts: Wilmington's airport recorded a 105-mph wind gust -- the fastest measured since Hurricane Helene hit the city in 1958, the National Hurricane Center said.

• Nuclear plant shutdown: A nuclear power plant in Brunswick, North Carolina, shut down operations because of the storm, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Twitter. "Plant procedures call for the reactors to be shut down before the anticipated onset of hurricane-force winds," agency spokesman Joey Ledford told CNN. Federal officials had said midweek they weren't concerned about that facility or five other nuclear plants in the storm's path, calling them "hardened." Expert scientists, however, had said they were worried about Brunswick because of scant public information about its readiness.

Rescues and narrow escapes

Florence's rain will bring 40 inches to some parts of the Carolinas, forecasters said. Rainfall totals will be similar to those in hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in 1999, the National Weather Service's Chris Wamsley said

"The only difference is, back then it was within 14 days," he said. With Florence, "we're looking at the same amount of rainfall in three days."

One of the rescuers in New Bern was Jason Weinmann, a retired Marine who has a military troop transport vehicle he bought at a government auction.

He picked up 10 people on one run and took them to a shelter. Jennifer Morales, 20, said there was 3 feet of water in her home.

"It was pretty bad. We didn't know where to go," she said.

Why Florence is extremely dangerous

Peggy Perry, who was rescued by another group in New Bern, said rising water forced her into the upper level of her home.

"In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest," said Perry, who was trapped early Friday with three relatives. "We are stuck in the attic."

Swift-water rescue teams from out of state helped local rescuers evacuate people whenever conditions allowed. One team from Maryland helped with about 40 rescues in New Bern starting Thursday, member Mitchell Rusland said.

Craven County, where New Bern is located, had logged more than 100 service calls from residents trapped on their roofs or in their cars, county spokeswoman Amber Parker said.

In Belhaven, the Pungo River roared into town, crashing up against homes at a waist-high level and higher late Thursday and early Friday, video from Amy Johnson showed.

Firefighters battle through hurricane winds
Just west of downtown Wilmington, firefighters spent hours trying to rescue people.

Wilmington Fire Chief Buddy Martinette praised his firefighters, who by policy are supposed to stop operating when winds pick up above 50 mph.

"We haven't been ... able to get in that policy. ... ," Marinette said. "The firefighters have basically been out here all during the hurricane," answering rescue and fire calls.

A terrifying night

In Morehead City, Brooke Kittrell rode out the storm Thursday and Friday with her boyfriend aboard their docked boat, hoping it didn't break loose and slam something.

She succeeded -- staying awake all night, retying broken dock lines in howling winds. But there were times she thought they wouldn't survive, she told CNN.

"I honestly cried," Kittrell said. "I was born and raised here and been through every storm the last 30 years, but this one seems to be doing more damage than we expected."

By Friday morning, the shore was flooded, and buildings were damaged, in video she put up on Facebook.

In Jacksonville, North Carolina, city officials posted photos of toppled gas pumps and a downed trees early Friday, warning residents to take shelter and avoid roadways.

Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.

Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic.