STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Just before Hurricane Florence came ashore, Federal Emergency Management Agency director Brock Long offered a warning.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BROCK LONG: Just because the wind speeds came down, please do not let your guard down. The storm surge forecast associated with this storm has not changed.
INSKEEP: Yeah - not as much wind, plenty of water. And NPR's Greg Allen is on the line from Wilmington, N.C.
Good morning, Greg.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what's it like there?
ALLEN: Well, we've been getting heavy rain and high winds since yesterday evening. But right now, we're starting to get the - the top winds from the eye wall of the storm are coming through. And you know, they've come down from where they were to about 90 miles per hour - Category 1 level. But those are still pretty powerful winds...
ALLEN: ...That we're feeling here.
And of course, as you say, that's less important than the water, where that's been the big issue here. The storm surge has started to be felt along the coast, and we've had real problems in the New Bern area, which is north of here up on the Neuse River, where the water got pushed in by the storm starting yesterday. And they saw at least a 10-foot storm surge, the North Carolina Department of Transportation says. And we've had search and rescue crews out through the evening - through the night, overnight rescuing people. We've heard of hundreds of people being taken from their homes up there in the New Bern area.
INSKEEP: Yeah, I'm just looking at a map here. New Bern is a little way inland. It's nowhere near the beach. But you're saying that water was pushed up a river, and it's by a river there. And that's why the flooding is taking place.
ALLEN: Exactly. There's a couple of rivers there, and the Neuse River is the one that's flooded. And it's from the Pamlico Sound. And as the rotation of the storm, it just - starting yesterday, started pushing that wall of water ahead of it. And they started seeing that early. And you know, a lot of people evacuated, but some people didn't. And they're the ones who are calling now. And we are hearing calls in the media of people in their attics, you know, talking about waiting for rescue. And the crews are out there trying to do that.
INSKEEP: Is the electricity holding up?
ALLEN: No. We've lost our power here, at least where I am - at the hotel I'm at in Wilmington. We know there's hundreds of thousands of power out here. I would say that it's just climbed - if you've lost power in Wilmington, then you've lost a lot more people. So we're over 300,000, I would think, at this point just in North Carolina alone.
INSKEEP: Oh, you're saying that Wilmington is the central area, the place where power is going to stay if it's going to stay anywhere. So in rural areas, it must be really bad at this point.
ALLEN: Right, exactly. I think so.
INSKEEP: So how many people did stay in their homes, as far as you can tell?
ALLEN: Well, you know, we spent some time in Carolina Beach the other day, and it was a ghost town. You know, everything - some whole sections of town were just boarded up, and no one was around. But you did find people there. So you know, it's a very - the vast majority of people left. But you're always going to have some people who believe that they have the supplies; they have the wherewithal to stay. And you hear, time and again, people say, well, my home has never flooded. You know?
And the message we've got from emergency managers here is that this is an unprecedented storm. So you know, we'll find out by the end of the day whether the people who stayed were right to do so or not. You know, besides New Bern, we haven't got the reports of flooding elsewhere. But you know they're coming as these rivers start to crest.
INSKEEP: So I'm just thinking of basic numbers here - the wind speeds, Category 1, 90 miles an hour - could be worse; storm surge - pretty bad. You want to know how many feet that is. But the other question is the speed at which this hurricane is moving because a slow-moving hurricane means more and more and more rain. Are people expecting massive rain inland, as had been feared?
ALLEN: Well, that's definitely going to be the issue. We've already had flood warnings issued for communities upriver in the Cape Fear River Basin. They can see that there's going to be flooding there later in the week because the river is going to be cresting. And that's going to happen here and throughout the Appalachian region.
INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Greg Allen has the first of the perspectives we're getting on the storm.
Greg, thanks very much.
ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.