News/Politics

Carolinas brace for severe flooding as Dorian hits with high winds, rain

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(Sean Rayford / Getty Images)

Floodwaters were rising in South Carolina as a strengthened Hurricane Dorian approached the state’s coast early Thursday, bringing high winds and the danger of a life-threatening storm surge.

Tens of thousands of households and businesses in the state were without power and roads were closed by flooding, local police reported.

Winds of up to 68 mph were recorded at the Charleston, South Carolina, international airport early Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Full coverage: Latest stories and video on Hurricane Dorian (NBC News)

The storm was about 70 miles from Charleston as of 8 a.m., with maximum sustained winds at 115 mph. It was expected to continue moving along the coast, with the center possibly moving over land in North Carolina Thursday evening.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, Gov. Roy Cooper urged people to take seriously mandatory evacuation orders for all of the state’s barrier islands. In the northeast part of the state, storm surges of more than 3 feet above ground are forecast for later in the week.

“Today is the day to finish preparing,” said Cooper in a statement Wednesday as the storm approached. “Do not underestimate this dangerous storm. Listen to your local emergency officials and leave now if they have ordered evacuations.”

At least one storm-related death was confirmed by state medical examiners in North Carolina. An 85-year-old man from Columbus County died Monday when he fell off a ladder while preparing his house for the storm, officials said.

The last major hurricane to make landfall in North Carolina was Fran in 1996, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach.

Dorian regained strength Wednesday to become a Category 3 hurricane, having temporarily lost some of its force after decimating the Bahamas, killing at least 20 people.

Up to 15 inches of rain could bring life-threatening flash floods as Dorian moves northeast along the coast through Friday, the weather service warned.

Images of people kayaking down the streets of Charleston as rain battered the city overnight were shared on social media early Thursday.

Charleston Police urged people to take shelter as storm conditions worsened.

“Emergency management officials are requesting that citizens throughout the City of Charleston begin to shelter in place as conditions are beginning to deteriorate,” police tweeted.

Utility company Dominion Energy South Carolina reported on its website that there were more than 133,000 customers without power by 7:40 a.m. Thursday. Over half of those are in Charleston County.

South Carolina Emergency Management Division said that statewide, the total outages were nearing 200,000 by 8:30 a.m. ET.

Dorian is expected to remain a hurricane for the next few days, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm’s center should reach the extreme southeast of New England Friday.

Adding to the threats are tornadoes that could be prompted by the storm system across the border area of coastal South and North Carolina. The at-risk area is expected to expand to include eastern North Carolina through Thursday evening.

At least one tornado was spotted in Pender County on Thursday morning, according to the weather service.

Dorian already caused utter destruction in the Bahamas, ripping roofs and walls off homes, toppling trees, flooding streets and burying communities in debris. At least 20 people were killed, Bahamas Health Minister Duane Sands told NBC News on Wednesday, and that number is expected to rise.

The destruction seen in the Bahamas mirrors the damage inflicted on Puerto Rico and Dominica during hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, the World Meteorological Organization said in a statement.

At its peak, Dorian reached maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and caused storm surges of 18 to 23 feet.

Storm surges are a growing threat to low-lying coastal communities because of sea level rise resulting from climate change, the meteorological organization said. Rainfall associated with tropical cyclones are also projected to increase with global warming.

Dorian has been one of the slowest-moving cyclones ever recorded. A recent study by federal scientists at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that such stalling by storms has increased in frequency among North Atlantic hurricanes, which results in more extreme rainfall.

Linda Givetash / NBC News

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