As Hurricane Florence pummeled the Carolinas with life-threatening storm surge, high winds and relentless rain Friday morning, FEMA administrator Brock Long issued a stark warning: "It's only going to get worse at this point." Though the storm weakened to a Category 1 overnight, the major threat of storm surge remained.
One of the hardest hit areas so far is, where residents became stranded after more than 10 feet of powerful storm surge flooded the small coastal city. A mandatory evacuation order was issued for the area earlier this week.
Long used New Bern as an example to make a larger point about hurricane preparedness.
"We wish people would heed the warnings," Long said. "What's unfortunate is that these guys have to risk their lives to go in and save the people that did not heed the warnings for whatever reason. We've got a long way to go in that culture of preparedness I keep talking about and helping people understand what their risks are, how to mitigate their situation, and just really trying to communicate this is why we ask you to leave. That is exactly the reason we ask people to evacuate is the ocean rising."
About 40 miles from New Bern, more than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel in Jacksonville, North Carolina at the height of the storm, according to CBS affiliate WNCT-TV in Greenville. Pieces of buildings ripped apart by the storm flew through the air.
As of Friday morning, the storm was crawling along at about 6 mph, and could slow down further, prompting comparisons to Hurricane Harvey which inundated Houston with water and crippled the city for weeks.
"This is going to be a frustrating event. You'll see the infrastructure knocked out," Long said. "I think you might see similar inland flooding damage that Floyd presented, that Joaquin presented to South Carolina…You're going to see a devastating impact to the agriculture in the eastern North Carolina most likely."
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster also issued a warning to those who defied evacuation orders and decided to stay behind.
"So we've told people if they decide to stay, at some point they're going to be on their own and we might not be back – able to get them until the storm is gone because there will be electrical lines down all over the place from all the rain. And we're going to have a lot of flooding. There's going to be more flooding with this hurricane and storm all over the state we think than we've ever had before. So there will be power lines down, there will be trees down, there will be roads washed out. And it's going to be difficult for the rescuers to get back in," McMaster said.