Tropical Storm Florence has torn apart buildings, drowned streets, torn up trees, submerged cars and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of homes in the Carolinas.
The former hurricane is forcing ocean water onto land and backing up rivers and streams, in what meteorologists refer to as a storm surge.
The storm hit land as a Category 1 hurricane with a wind speed of 145 km/h Friday morning. It brought the ocean with it, pushing a storm surge inland that’s predicted to reach up to four metres deep in some areas. Forecasters say the storm could drop more than one metre of rain on the region.
WATCH BELOW: Compelling footage from Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas
The rainfall alone would be enough to partially submerge most vehicles. The storm surge is expected to raise the water level well above an average person’s head, although it could take days for the water to reach its full height farther inland.
“It’s the water that tends to kill people,” said Jessica Whitehead, a coastal communities hazard adaptation specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant. Many homes in the area are not prepared to handle the massive flood of water brought in by a storm surge, she told Global News on Thursday.
Here’s what the predicted four-metre storm surge looks like.
The storm surge could rival the one recorded during Hurricane Harvey, when the surge reached up to 3.8 metres in some areas, according to the National Weather Service last year in Texas. At least 68 people died as a direct result of Hurricane Harvey, according to the National Hurricane Center. Another 35 deaths were attributed to the indirect dangers that emerge during a hurricane, such as vehicle crashes, electrocution due to downed power lines and lack of medical services.
Multiple deaths were reported on Friday due to Florence.
WATCH: Florence – Part of pier in North Carolina washes away as storm surge hits
“Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said on Friday, before it was downgraded to a tropical storm. “It’s an uninvited brute and it doesn’t want to leave.”
Some communities reported water levels at 1.82 metres deep on Friday afternoon.
The storm itself is 645 kilometres wide, with full hurricane-force winds stretching across a 225-kilometre span.
Dramatic photos from New Bern, N.C., show just how high the water has risen along the coast. The community of 29,000 is on the edge of the ocean between two rivers, approximately 180 kilometres east of Raleigh.
WATCH BELOW: Hurricane Florence hits North Carolina with its storm surge
The park was mostly underwater by evening, as the below before-and-after photo shows. The National Weather Service measured the storm surge in the area at three metres deep on Friday.
New Bern touts itself as the second-oldest city in North Carolina. It commemorated its 300th anniversary in 2010 by commissioning dozens of fiberglass bears to positions around the town.
Some of the bears were carried away by the flood on Friday. “These statues, which New Bern is known for, are extremely heavy & bolted down at sponsoring businesses,” the city tweeted.
Authorities ordered more than 1.7 million people to evacuate the area ahead of the storm this week. However, some were still in their homes when Florence struck on Friday. Several hundred people have been evacuated from the area so far, officials say.
Tom Balance, who owns a seafood restaurant in New Bern, was rescued by six sheriff’s officers Friday morning.
“I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth,” he told the Associated Press.
Florence stalled over North Carolina on Friday afternoon, when it was clocked moving at just 5 km/h. The storm is expected to dump up to 86 trillion litres of water on seven states as it lumbers through the area over the next week.
Florence is one of several storms raging around the globe right now. Hurricane Helene and tropical storm Isaac are churning across the Atlantic Ocean, while Typhoon Mangkhut threatens five million people in the Philippines and China. Mangkhut is expected to hit on Saturday.
— With files from the Associated Press