Hurricane Florence, making landfall, will bring ‘catastrophic’ flooding over wide area of Carolinas

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Hurricane Florence, expected to bring life-threatening storm surges and several feet of rainfall over days, was within a few miles of the North Carolina coastline early Friday, with forecasters warning that a slight weakening of wind speed did not mean the storm will not cause major damage.

Florence was last located about 10 miles from Wilmington, N.C., at 6 a.m. Eastern time, with maximum sustained winds of 90 miles an hour and periodic tropical-storm force winds of 195 miles per hour. The slow-moving storm was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

The Miami-based center warned that the downgrade does little to remove the high risk. Florence is bringing “catastrophic” fresh water flooding over a wide area of the Carolinas, it said.

CNN reported flooding on North Carolina’s barrier islands and coast Thursday night, with a weather station in Atlantic Beach reporting more than 12 inches of rain in 24 hours. “With this storm, it’s a (Category 1) but the storm surge and the flooding is going to be that of a category 4,” CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray said.

The National Weather Service reported a storm surge of 10 feet above normal levels in Morehead City, N.C., on Thursday night, and flooding was reported in New Burn as rivers swelled.

Florence is expected to dump more than 3 feet of rainfall on parts of coastal North Carolina. A storm surge is expected to push coastal waters up to 13 feet above ground, if it coincides with high tide. Winds and heavy rain are expected to move inland too and to last for days.

“Life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding are likely over portions of the Carolinas and the southern and central Appalachians late this week into early next week, as Florence is expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland,” the NHC said.

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Residents hunker down for the big storm.

The hurricane is expected be the strongest storm to hit the region since Hurricane Hugo struck 29 years ago. The population of the Carolinas has grown by about 5 million people since then.

Rainfall over the Appalachians could lead to rock and mud slides, downing trees and saturating soil, it warned.

The hurricane is expected be the strongest storm to hit the region since Hurricane Hugo struck 29 years ago. The population of the Carolinas has grown by about 5 million people since then.

Charlotte, N.C.–based utility Duke Energy DUK, +1.56% warned customers in the Carolinas to brace for power outages, that could take weeks to repair.

“Historical data and company experience indicate that total power restoration from a storm of this magnitude could take multiple days to several weeks — depending on the extent of damage and post-storm conditions, such as ongoing high winds and severe flooding, after the storm passes though the region,” the company said in a statement.

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At least one airline, Delta Air Lines Inc. DAL, +0.75% , said it was adding flights from the Carolinas to help with the evacuation. The Atlanta-based carrier said it has added more than 1,000 seats and is waiving certain fees for passengers with flights routed through affected cities.

Meanwhile, the two storms that are churning behind Florence have weakened, easing concerns of a repeat of 2017’s record hurricane season, when the storms called Harvey, Irma and Maria caused more than $200 billion of losses, according to reinsurer Munich Re.

The storm known as Hurricane Helene was downgraded to a tropical storm and was last located about 1,135 miles southwast of the Azores with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles an hour. The former Hurricane Isaac, also now a tropical storm, has maximum sustained winds of 45 miles an hour. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe, while a tropical-storm watch was in effect for Antigua, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba and St. Eustatius.

A new subtropical storm named Joyce was churning about 980 miles west-southwest of the Azores with maxiumum sustained winds of 40 miles an hour.

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The Atlantic was not the only region experiencing storm conditions. The Pacific hurricane named Olivia was downgraded to a tropical depression. That storm is bad news for a Hawaii still cleaning up after Hurricane Lane caused massive rainfall, flooding and landslides in August.

As the chart illustrates, Hurricane Katrina, the storm that devastated New Orleans in 2005, remains the costliest ever for the U.S.

But 2017’s trio of hurricanes combined to create a record season. Hurricane Harvey caused the most damage in Texas, where it poured more than 30 inches of rain on 6.9 million people, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, where its cost, both human and to property, is still being calculated.

CoreLogic, which tracks property data, estimates that the property damage from Florence could top between $3 billion and $5 billion in losses, which has been expanded to include a wind and storm surge but does not include insured losses related to rainfall, riverine or other flooding. Read more on that here.

Among the insurers expected to feel pressure are Travelers TRV, +1.53% Allstate ALL, +1.51% Chubb CB, +1.20%  and Berkshire Hathaway BRK.A, -0.24% BRK.B, +0.14% according to J.P. Morgan. And restaurant stocks like Cracker Barrel CBRL, +0.12%  are also in the firing line. Those stocks were trading higher Thursday.

On the other side, companies that offer goods and services needed in the run-up and aftermath of a storm may fare well, such as Home Depot HD, -1.19% Thor Industries THO, -0.23% Avis CAR, -1.34% and United Rentals URI, -0.15% to name a few. Check out more companies that could get bumped higher here.

The S&P 500 SPX, +0.53%  and the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.57%  were up 0.3%.

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