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‘Never seen anything like this’: Idalia deluge still wreaking havoc in Southeast. Live updates

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PERRY, Fla. − Idalia, a raging monster of a hurricane when it slammed across Florida, had retreated to tropical storm status Thursday but continued to pound parts of the Southeast with drenching downpours and profuse flooding.

The storm’s center was about 65 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, according to an 8 a.m. advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center. Idalia was still driving sustained winds of 60 mph and was expected to head into the Atlantic later Thursday.

“Heavy rainfall and life-threatening flash flooding continue in portions of eastern North Carolina,” the advisory said.

Gradual weakening of the storm was expected, but the storm remained capable of destruction. Tropical storm warnings and storm surge watches were in effect along much of coastal North Carolina.

“We expect winds, rain and flooding to continue to impact our state even into Saturday,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.

In Florida’s Big Bend, where the fast-moving storm made landfall Wednesday in Taylor County as a Category 3 hurricane with 125-mph winds, cleanup was in full swing. Much of the water that flowed like rivers through streets in the town of Perry and surrounding areas had retreated, leaving behind battered homes and flood-damaged vehicles.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in Perry,” said Sheila Houston, 57. “And I hope we don’t ever again.”

Idalia downgraded to tropical storm: Georgia, Carolinas, Florida inundated

Developments:

∎More than 275,000 homes and businesses were without power Thursday in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. About half the outages were in Florida.

In South Carolina, the heavy rains, strong winds and high tide conspired to send water racing through the streets of Charleston.

∎ In Georgia, Valdosta and Lowndes County suffered “significant” damage, the city said in a statement. Many roads are impassable because of flooding, debris or power lines in the roadway. “The recovery efforts are underway, but the damage is vast.”

Idalia text message updates: Sign up to receive updates on Hurricane Idalia and its aftermath from journalists across the USA TODAY network

Deborah Green’s family returned to Perry after the storm and were overwhelmed by the destruction in many other parts of town.  The storm shredded commercial buildings signs, tipped over powerlines, blew out windows and ripped a gas station canopy off its foundation. Main roads that connect the city of 7,000 to the rest of the state were lined with live oak trees and long leaf pines, uprooted and snapped at their trunks.

On Wednesday, the family cleared debris from their yard. Their back porch was smashed by a fallen tree, and there was light roof damage elsewhere. Still, Green was thankful.

“We were blessed that we had our home to come back to,” Green said. Read more here.

This forecast track shows the most likely path of the center of the storm but does not illustrate the full width of the storm or its impacts.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he has told the state’s emergency responders and law enforcement personnel to protect private property damaged by the storm or left vacant by evacuees. He issued an ominous warning to prospective looters at a briefing late Wednesday, saying would be held accountable legally and that “it could even be worse than that.”

“People have a right to defend their property,” DeSantis said. “In this part of Florida, you’ve got a lot of advocates and proponents of the 2nd Amendment, and I’ve seen signs in different people’s yards in the past after these disasters (that say)’You loot, we shoot.’ You never know what’s behind that door.”

‘Couldn’t believe it’: Floridians emerge from Idalia’s destruction with hopes to recover

Tropical Depression Eleven intensified to Tropical Storm Jose early Thursday. The storm was located several hundred miles east of Bermuda with sustained winds near 40 mph. Little change in strength was forecast, and the system was expected to be absorbed by Hurricane Franklin by the weekend.

Contributing: Doyle Rice, Thao Nguyen

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