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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. East Coast Swamped by Floyd

WILMINGTON, North Carolina -- Hurricane Floyd tore ashore Thursday near Cape Fear with winds of 177 kilometers per hour, flooding the coasts of North and South Carolina as tens of thousands of people huddled in shelters.

The eye of the huge storm arrived on the U.S. mainland at about 3 a.m., preceded by hours of violent weather that included more than 30 centimeters of rain and several tornadoes. More than 480,000 utility customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were without power.

At 8 a.m., the storm was centered 64 kilometers east of Greenville, South Carolina, and moving at 37 kilometers per hour to the north-northeast.

The hurricane was expected to churn across southeastern Virginia, then out to sea along the coasts of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey before nearing New York's Long Island early Friday. Disaster preparations were being made in New York City, Massachusetts' Cape Cod and along the coast of Maine.

Hurricane warnings were posted as far north as Plymouth, Massachusetts. Public schools were closed for the day across New Jersey and in New York City.

The rain had stopped near Wilmington, Delaware. There were still brisk gusts, and black clouds floated quickly overhead, but the sun was poking through.

Along the Intercoastal Waterway in Wilmington, porpoises gently swam seaward past a 10-meter fishing boat that was thrown onto land across from Wrightsville Beach island. Surprisingly, little other damage could be seen on the mainland, aside from some road flooding and buckled piers.

Authorities had urged more than 2.6 million people along the southern Atlantic coast to clear out of Floyd's path - the biggest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history.

While the storm delivered only a glancing blow to Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday, it still forced the cancellation of hundreds of airline flights. Amtrak suspended all train service south of Washington.

One death was attributed to the storm in North Carolina - a person died when a car hydroplaned on wet roads Wednesday afternoon and crashed. A second person was presumed dead after being swept away by flooding near Greenville. One person was missing in the Bahamas.

Floyd hit the coast near Cape Fear - about 40 kilometers south of Wilmington. The storm's winds were down from a peak of nearly 250 kilometers per hour at its core when it battered the Bahamas and were expected to weaken as it moved over land.

Bahamians on Wednesday began assessing the cost of a 12-hour battering from Hurricane Floyd, but that may take awhile since reports are still not in from several islands without communications after the storm hit.

Two twisters also damaged homes and churches in North Carolina, but no injuries were reported.

Hurricane-strength gusts earlier buffeted Charleston, South Carolina, and more than 200,000 people in the area lost power. More than 35 centimeters of rain fell on Myrtle Beach by midnight, and authorities said they had never seen such severe flooding.

Earlier, in northern and central Florida, Floyd snapped power lines, smashed piers into driftwood and knocked out electricity to 300,000 people. About 565 kilometers off the coast, the Navy and Coast Guard rescued eight people whose tugboat sank in 9-meter seas churned up by the hurricane.

But Floyd made a northward turn that spared Florida and Georgia the catastrophic damage many had feared. NASA's Kennedy Space Center and its four shuttles were largely unscathed.