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Hurricane Dorian howls over North Carolina's Outer Banks

A weakened Hurricane Dorian flooded homes on North Carolina's Outer Banks on Friday with a fury that took even storm-hardened residents by surprise. Hundreds were feared trapped by high water, and neighbours used boats to rescue one another.

State's governor says rescue teams on call to get to hard-hit Ocracoke Island as soon as possible

A truck drives on a flooded street in Rodanthe as Hurricane Dorian hits Cape Hatteras in North Carolina on Friday. Some on the Outer Banks were in need of rescue, officials said. (Jose Luis Magana/AFP/Getty Images)

A weakened Hurricane Dorian flooded homes on North Carolina's Outer Banks on Friday with a fury that took even storm-hardened residents by surprise, forcing people to retreat to their attics. Hundreds were feared trapped by high water, and neighbours used boats to rescue one another.

Sheriff's officials sent medics and other rescuers to Ocracoke Island — accessible only by boat or air — to reach those who made the mistake of defying mandatory evacuation orders along the 320-kilometre ribbon of low-lying islands that stick out from the eastern seaboard like the side-view mirror on a car.

Officials said people in need of leaving the island would eventually be taken to a shelter equipped with food, medical supplies and power in Washington County on the mainland, some 120 kilometres east of the state capital, Raleigh. Priority was to be given to the elderly, anyone with medical needs or other special circumstances.

"We estimate about 800 people remained on the island during the storm and have heard reports from residents who say the flooding there was catastrophic," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. "We're thankful not to have reports of serious injury or death since the storm arrived."

Its winds down to 145 km/h, Dorian howled over the Outer Banks as a far weaker storm than the brute that wreaked havoc on the Bahamas at the start of the week. Just when it looked as if its run up the southeast coast was coming to a relatively quiet end, the Category 1 hurricane lashed communities with rain and surging seas, sending water coursing onto the main floors of elevated homes.

Over and over, longtime residents said that they had never seen flooding so bad, or that things that had never flooded before were inundated.

Kelsey Myers looks at an overturned tree in her front yard in Summerville, S.C., after Hurricane Dorian passed by. (Mic Smith/The Associated Press)

"The wall of water just came rushing through the island from the sound side. And it just started looking like a bathtub, very quickly," said Steve Harris, who has lived on Ocracoke Island for most of the last 19 years. "We went from almost no water to four to six feet in a matter of minutes."

Harris said people were getting around the island by boat, and authorities were using military vehicles to reach those stranded. He said he was fortunate to live on the third floor of a condo building but lost his car to the storm.

Good Samaritans help out

Another Ocracoke Island resident, bookshop owner Leslie Lanier, said via text message that the first floors of some homes had flooded and people had been forced to climb to their attics, but that the water had already begun to drop.

"We are flooding like crazy," she said, adding: "I have been here 32 years and not seen this."

Ocracoke Island resident and restaurant owner Jason Wells said the flooding was the worst he had ever seen or heard of.

"Several people were rescued from their upper floors or attics by boat by good Samaritans," Wells said in a text message. He said he wasn't aware of any serious injuries.

Watch video of the storm overnight in Morehead, N.C.

The Category 1 storm's outer bands caused heavy rain in Morehead City, N.C., overnight. 0:51

The Coast Guard began landing aircraft on the island to drop off local law enforcement officers and evacuate a resident in need of medical care. Authorities told people to get to the highest point in their homes as they waited to be rescued.

In Buxton, on Hatteras Island, close to where Dorian blew ashore, Radio Hatteras volunteer Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy said that people were calling in to report that "houses are shaking like crazy" and that "it's never been like this before."

"The wind is blowing with fury," she said.

Some of the locations in the Carolinas affected by the impact of Dorian are shown. (CBC News)

The storm's centre made landfall at Cape Hatteras, one of the low-lying barrier islands in the Outer Banks, around 8:30 a.m. ET with maximum sustained winds nearing 150 km/h, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

At least four people were killed in the southeast. All were men in Florida or North Carolina who died in falls or by electrocution while trimming trees, putting up storm shutters or otherwise getting ready for the hurricane.

Dorian swamped roads in historic downtown Charleston, S.C., and knocked down some 150 trees and toppled power lines. 

Dorian apparently spawned at least one tornado in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., damaging several homes, and another twister touched down in the beach town of Emerald Isle, N.C., mangling and overturning several trailer homes in a jumble of sheet metal. No immediate injuries were reported.

A tornado touched down in Carolina Shores, N.C., on Thursday. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via Associated Press)

More than 700 airline flights scheduled for Thursday and Friday were cancelled, while power outages by Friday afternoon had dropped by about one-third, to around 213,000, in the Carolinas and Virginia.

The damage was far less than feared in many parts of the Carolinas, including Wilmington, N.C., the state's biggest coastal city.

Joseph Pawlick went out Friday morning to rake leaves, twigs and other debris blown from the sidewalk outside his Wilmington home.

"I slept like a baby last night. This, thankfully, was not bad," he said.

South Carolina counties in the clear

In South Carolina, residents in affected counties who left the state's coastal areas ahead of Dorian were told they would be allowed to return home Friday. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has lifted the remaining evacuation orders for Berkeley, Charleston, Dorcheter, Georgetown and Horry counties, though he cautioned those returning could face blocked roads, detours and lengthy travel times.

As of 5 p.m. ET, Dorian's centre was moving northeast in the Atlantic Ocean at around 38 km/h, packing maximum sustained winds of 145 km/h. 

High winds whip through Buxton, N.C., just after dawn as Hurricane Dorian passes nearby on Friday. A weakened Dorian flooded homes on North Carolina's Outer Banks on Friday with a ferocity that seemed to take storm-hardened residents by surprise. (Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

Officials in Atlantic Canada are preparing for Dorian's arrival. The NHC said hurricane-force winds are likely for Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and possibly Newfoundland on Saturday and Sunday, with dangerous storm surge likely in eastern Nova Scotia and southwestern Newfoundland.

The hurricane hammered the Bahamas earlier in the week with 295 km/h winds, killing at least 30 people. The victims are from Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, and the number of dead is expected to grow.

With files from Reuters

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