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Firefighters pray after mother, daughter killed in storm; Florence moves into South Carolina

Tropical storm Florence hovered over the Carolinas and pounded the region with heavy rains Saturday, after it landed as a hurricane and left five people dead, including an infant.

Florence crashed ashore in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane Friday, and was downgraded to a tropical storm the same afternoon.

As night fell, it drifted into South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, leaving people trapped in flooded homes and promising days of destruction and human suffering.

The storm's powerful surges, winds and rain turned some towns into rushing rivers. It's expected to crawl over parts of the Carolinas into the weekend, its torrential rain pounding some areas over and over.

It's "relentless and excruciating and very slow," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.

Florence's five fatalities included a mother and her infant killed after a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, the city's police department said. The father was hospitalized with injuries.

In Hampstead, emergency responders going to a call for cardiac arrest found their path blocked by downed trees. When they got to the home, the woman was dead, authorities said.

Two men were also killed in Lenoir County: One was electrocuted while hooking up a generator and the other while checking on his dogs outside, emergency officials said..

Key developments

• Florence's location: By early Saturday, Florence was 25 miles (35 km) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was moving southwest at 5 mph, the National Weather Service said.

• Prolonged winds: Florence's tropical storm-force winds extend 175 miles from its center.

• No electricity: About 781,000 customers are without power in North Carolina, emergency officials said. In neighboring South Carolina, 165,000 customers are without power, officials said.

•'Ready mode': US Army forces and National Guard troops are in "ready mode" to provide support, including water purification, high water vehicles and rotary wing aircraft.

• Flooding for miles: Up to 40 inches of rain and storm surges pushing water inland will produce catastrophic flash flooding, the National Hurricane Center says. It said there will be "flooding miles and miles inland." Some areas in South Carolina could see rainfall totals of up to 15 inches, forecasters said.

• Rising rivers: Rivers in North Carolina are expected to crest higher than during 2016's Hurricane Matthew in some areas, emergency officials said.

Trapped and rescued: In hard-hit New Bern, NC, rescuers plucked more than 200 people from rising waters Friday. About 150 more had to wait to be rescued as conditions worsened. That number was down to 40 later in the day.

She called 911. No one came

Those who stayed behind provided harrowing accounts of getting trapped in homes surrounded by water.

Annazette Riley-Cromartie said she and her family thought they'd be safe in their brick home in eastern North Carolina. But the water kept rising.

She, her husband and three children escaped into the attic, but the winds howled and the family fled to an upper floor bedroom.

As they waited for emergency workers, they heard neighbors screaming for help. Her 6-foot-2 husband went to help, but the water was above his chest, she said.

"It's the worst feeling in the world to hear people yelling for help and you can't do anything," she said.

She said she called 911, but no one came. Eventually, a volunteer rescue team that had arrived in North Carolina from Indiana came with a boat and rescued them.

States of emergency

Rainfall totals for the storm will be similar to those in hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in 1999, the National Weather Service's Chris Wamsley said

"The only difference is, back then it was within 14 days," he said. With Florence, it'll be the same amount of rainfall in three days.

Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.

Sign up for Florence alerts

Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic. According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm will travel through upstate South Carolina, be downgraded to a tropical depression, then turn north toward the Ohio Valley.

As it moves near Ohio and West Virginia, it will become a remnant low. Then it will swing to the northeast in the middle of next week on a path to the Atlantic Ocean near Nova Scotia, where it will be an extratropical low with gale-force winds.

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