(NEW YORK) -- The core of Hurricane Dorian whipped North Carolina's coastline with hurricane-force wind gusts early Friday morning, and forecasters say the storm will likely make landfall there soon.
Gusts up to 94 miles per hour were reported on Cape Lookout, part of the string of barrier islands that make up North Carolina's Outer Banks, as the hurricane's eyewall, the region where the most severe weather occurs, moved across the area. The eye of the storm has remained offshore so far, but North Carolina's low-lying islands and waterfront communities are bracing for flash flooding and dangerous storm surge as Dorian gets closer by the minute.
Nearly 340,000 homes and businesses were without power across the Carolinas early Friday morning as a result of the storm.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has warned residents who didn't heed earlier evacuation warnings to stay indoors and "hunker down" until the storm passes.
"Hurricane Dorian is ready to unleash its fury on our state," Cooper said at a press conference Thursday. "Whether it comes ashore or not, the eye of the storm will be close enough to cause extensive damage."
One storm-related death struck North Carolina before Dorian's arrival. An 85-year-old man died Wednesday after falling off a ladder while preparing his home for the storm in Columbus County, according to Cooper.
Early Friday, Dorian weakened to a Category 1 hurricane, with sustained winds of 90 miles per hours, as it churned past the North Carolina port city of Wilmington. The storm is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as its center moves near or over the Outer Banks during the next several hours.
Dorian is then forecast to further move east out into the ocean Friday night and weaken to a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds by Saturday night, as the storm approaches the Canadian maritime province of Nova Scotia, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Dorian is expected to dump up to 8 inches of rain in northeast North Carolina through Saturday, with as much as 15 inches of total rainfall accumulating in isolated locations. The combination of downpours and storm surge as high as 7 feet could cause life-threatening flash floods in the area. Meanwhile, far southeast Virginia could also get up to 8 inches of rain through Saturday, say National Hurricane Center officials.
South Carolina has already seen more than 10 inches of rain since the storm brushed by the coast Thursday night. Some streets in the historic port city Charleston were underwater as strong winds knocked down power lines and trees.
Currently, hurricane-force winds are extending outward up to 45 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds are stretching up to 220 miles. The southeastern part of New England is expected to get hit with gusty winds and heavy rain Saturday morning, as much as 4 inches, as the outer bands of the monstrous storm sideswipe the region, according to the National Hurricane Center.
At least 20 tornadoes have been reported in the Carolinas since Thursday. One tornado ripped through Emerald Isle, North Carolina, upending mobile homes and strewing debris across the roads.
Another tornado was reported in Little River, South Carolina, where one resident told ABC Florence affiliate WPDE-TV that they heard what sounded "like a large airplane or a large train coming through."
Before approaching the United States, Dorian slammed into the Bahamas on Sunday afternoon as a Category 5 hurricane, making the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record. The storm hovered over the archipelago's northern islands for nearly two days, flattening homes, submerging roads and flooding an international airport.
Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Dorian left "generational devastation" across the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, which are both in the archipelago's northern region, east of southern Florida.
At least 30 people have died in the Bahamas due to Dorian, but the country's health minister told a local radio station Thursday that the final death count will be "staggering."
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