(CN) — As Hurricane Florence lumbered ashore in North Carolina early Friday, smashing buildings and trapping hundreds in floods caused by the combination of storm surge and heavy rains, residents of South Carolina could only wonder what the storm has in store for them.
At least four people were killed as the storm advanced inland, including a mother and infant in Wilmington, North Carolina who died when a tree fell onto their house.
According to the National Weather Service in Charleston, the forward motion of the massive, 400-mile-wide hurricane slowed to about three miles-per-hour after it made landfall and it is now moving to west-southwest, a course that will take its collapsing eye just north of city in the early evening.
Florence has caused tremendous damage in North Carolina as in came ashore at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington, shortly after 7 a.m. Friday morning, even collapsing a motel in which 60 people had taken refuge. Hundreds more had to be rescued elsewhere from rising waters.
Initial assessments suggest the communities of Wilmington and New Bern, North Carolina were particularly hard hit, and so far, at least 600,000 homes and businesses in the hurricane’s path have been left without power.
“Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “It’s an uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave.”
As the hurricane turned and moved into northeastern South Carolina, it brought down trees, power lines and traffic lights in several locations, including North Myrtle Beach.
Because of the storm’s slow forward motion, forecasters said Friday that torrential rains could continue to fall over large sections of South Carolina for the next 36 to 48 hours.
Tropical storm force winds will dominate Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry through Saturday, with occasional hurricane-strength gust persisting through the weekend.
However, the biggest potential impacts continue to be flooding rain and storm surge.
Short-lived tornadoes are also a possibility, but mainly across the northern third of South Carolina, forecasters said.
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats that could be used to pluck people from the floodwaters.
For people living inland in the Carolinas, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest.
Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of environmental havoc from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
The National Hurricane Center said Florence will eventually make a right hook to the northeast over the southern Appalachians, moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England as a tropical depression by the middle of next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.