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Isaias downgraded to tropical storm after making landfall as hurricane in North Carolina

The powerful storm continued to bring high winds and the risk of storm surge and flash flooding.
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Hurricane Isaias has been downgraded to a tropical storm after making landfall in southern North Carolina late Monday, but continued to bring high winds and the risk of storm surge, flash flooding and tornadoes, forecasters said.

In a 5 a.m. ET update, the National Hurricane Center said sustained winds of up to 70 mph were recorded as the center of storm approached southeast Virginia. The center said excessive rainfall meant the risk of flooding was "high."

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By 2 a.m. Tuesday hurricane warnings for South Carolina had been canceled. By 5 a.m. a separate warning for the North Carolina coast south of Surf City was also cancelled, according to the National Hurricane Center.

But storm surge warnings were put in place for Pamlico and Albemarle sounds in North Carolina and Ocracoke Inlet on the border with Virginia. A National Hurricane Center map showed potential storm surges across much of the East Coast.

Doppler radar imagery and surface observations indicated that the eye of Isaias, which had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, made landfall at 11:10 p.m. near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said.

By around 8 p.m. Isaias had grown strong enough to be classified as a hurricane. The wind speed made it a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Even before landfall, Isaias' effects were being felt in South and North Carolina.

Near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, street flooding was reported Monday night. Firefighters responded to report of a sinking vehicle around 8:20 p.m. The sole occupant got out safely and no injuries were reported, Horry County Fire Rescue said.

Strong winds and heavy rain were expected to spread along the Mid-Atlantic coast over the morning.

Bill Saffo, the mayor of Wilmington, North Carolina, which is the coast from Ocean Isle Beach, said late Monday the city had seen high wind and a lot of power outages, but the extent of the damage won't be known until the storm passes and crews can complete assessments.

"This is what these storms do, they're very unpredictable and they can pick up speed before they hit land, and obviously this one has," Saffo said in an interview on MSNBC as it was coming ashore. "We're going to see probably some pretty good damage when we wake up in the morning."

Utility company Duke Energy said on its website that there were more than 155,700 customers without power in North Carolina early Tuesday.

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There were four fires at homes in one area of Ocean Isle Beach, but the extent was not immediately clear, NBC affiliate WCET of Wilmington reported. The mayor said flooding reached around 3 feet in some places.

The Brunswick County Sheriff's Office tweeted that numerous trees were down and urged people to stay off the roads and away from power lines.

The Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic regions were expected to see around 3 to 6 inches of rainfall, with isolated maximums of 8 inches, according to the hurricane center.

Monday night New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency starting at 5 a.m. Tuesday and told residents to stay off roads unless absolutely necessary.

Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, said in a video briefing Monday afternoon that Isaias was expected to bring "torrential rainfall" as well as storm surge and winds.

"That's a nighttime landfall, and that's particularly dangerous," because it can make it hard to see flooding and other effects, Graham said.

Coastal areas north of the Carolinas could also expect possible "flash and urban flooding, high winds, dangerous storm surge, coastal flooding, life-threatening surf, rip currents, and severe thunderstorms with tornadoes to portions of the Eastern U.S.," the weather service said.

Warnings or watches or other alerts associated with the storm stretched up the East Coast late Monday, from South Carolina to Maine.

Tropical storm warnings extended to parts of New Hampshire. "We are taking it seriously and you should too,” state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Jennifer Harper said in a statement.

In Horry County, South Carolina, home of Myrtle Beach, a public safety official said that whether the storm is a tropical storm or a hurricane likely will not matter much for the region.

"If it comes in at 70 miles an hour or 75 miles an hour, the impacts will be identical," Horry County Assistant Administrator for Public Safety Randy Webster said at a news conference Monday.

"We are prepared. We have taken all of the steps that we need to take," Webster said. No evacuation orders had been issued, but he urged residents to take the storm seriously, adding that a considerable storm surge of up to 3 to 5 feet along beachfront areas was possible.

The storm already dropped heavy rain on Florida's east coast even though it had been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon.

Last week, the storm uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. One man died in the Dominican Republic. In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floods that swept away one woman, whose body was recovered Saturday.

Isaias snapped trees and knocked out power as it blew through the Bahamas on Saturday. Officials there opened shelters for people in the Abaco Islands to help those who have been living in temporary structures since Hurricane Dorian devastated the area, killing at least 70 people in September 2019.