Updated at 8:31 p.m. ET
After Hurricane Dorian hammered the Carolinas on Thursday with heavy downpours and hurricane-force winds, city residents breathed a sigh of relief as the storm pulled away from Charleston, S.C.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg examined spreadsheets detailing the storm's impact, and decided that Dorian was merciful.
"We got a little bit of clean up to do and help the power companies get the power back on," Tecklenburg said. "But nobody was injured or killed, so we were blessed."
Nonetheless, the mayor was more than ready to see the storm go.
"We're very hospitable here in Charleston," Tecklenburg said. "We didn't really welcome this fella, but he stayed most of the day. We're glad to see him gone. Maybe a little good riddance, maybe a little hallelujah."
Hundreds of thousands in South Carolina remain without power, including about half of the city of Charleston, where more than 100 trees were toppled by severe winds around the historic city.
Tacklenburg said he will be sending prayers to his North Carolina neighbors. And the state may need them.
Meteorologists say as Dorian treks slowly northward, the powerful Category 2 storm with sustained winds of up to 100 mph could swipe North Carolina's Outer Banks, where Dorian is expected to be late Thursday or early Friday. It is 30 miles south of Cape Fear, N.C. and moving northeast at 10 mph according the National Hurricane Center's 8 p.m. ET update.
"Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles (95 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 220 miles (350)," the NHC report adds.
But even if Dorian avoids landfall, the storm could dump up to 15 inches of rain along the coast, along with potentially destructive winds.
Virginia, too, could be in Dorian's path. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for many of the state's low-lying areas.
In Florida, which was largely spared by Dorian's wrath, at least four men died trimming trees or doing other preparations ahead of Dorian, according to state authorities.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper asked residents to stay in doors. The state is expected to be pummeled by storm surge, flash flooding and heavy rains. Tornadoes, which broke out sporadically in South Carolina, are also a threat as Dorian moves north, Cooper said.
"We are feeling the storm's force, but it has only started," said Cooper in a statement. "We have a long night ahead of us."
"The center of Dorian will continue to move close to the coast of
South Carolina this afternoon, and then move near or over the coast
of North Carolina tonight and Friday," the NHC predicts in its 5 p.m. ET advisory. "The center should move to the southeast of extreme southeastern New England Friday night and Saturday morning, and approach Nova Scotia later on Saturday."
"It is serious, and it can be deadly," Cooper told a news conference Thursday morning. "The message this morning is this: Get to safety and stay there. Don't let your guard down. This won't be a brush-by. Whether it comes ashore or not, the eye of the storm will be close enough to cause extensive damage in North Carolina."
Cooper's constituents need not look far to find what Dorian has been capable of. In the Bahamas, which Dorian battered for more than two days, authorities say at least 20 people have died, and they fear that death toll could rise significantly as rescue and recovery efforts unfold on the Caribbean island chain.
Images from the area reveal houses leveled, docks washed away and entire neighborhoods reduced to landscapes of rubble and ruin.
"We don't have a full scope of the damage," Vice Adm. Scott Buschman, who oversees U.S. Coast Guard operations in the Atlantic, told NPR's Morning Edition. "But the areas I flew over yesterday — and I haven't flown over a lot of storms — I saw, if not the most significant damage and destruction, probably the most significant damage and destruction I've ever seen."
South Carolina and North Carolina are facing a slightly diminished — but still dangerous — Dorian. According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm is creating conditions that can also spawn tornadoes in the storm-lashed regions. Videos recorded Thursday morning in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Pender County, N.C., appear to show tornadoes taking shape amid the whipping winds.
In Charleston, S.C., persistent rain sheets from Dorian pelted the city and severe winds toppled tree limbs and rattled buildings.
A recent drive around the city revealed that street after street had been made impassible by flooding or debris pileups. Emergency responders helped cars stuck in the pooled water reach safety after motorists underestimated the depth of flooding. Other drivers got out of their cars and measured the inundation with tree sticks to gauge whether waters were safe to pass through.
Above the mostly vacant streets, menacing clouds lingered as out-of-order traffic signals swayed back and forth in Dorian's howling gusts. Hotels in Charleston were operating on power generators, with lights in some rooms flickering every couple of minutes.
And that's unlikely to be the end of it. Forecasters say afternoon high tides in Charleston could worsen flooding before the storm treks toward North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Meanwhile in Georgia, residents of Tybee Island, a barrier island beach town of some 3,000 people, breathed a collective sigh of relief after Dorian's coastal impact fell far below initial estimates in their area.
Resident Megan Hall, who was among those defying mandatory evacuation orders, spent Wednesday night at a beachfront bar and then went home and made dinner. There was really nothing unusual about the evening, she said, despite a hurricane with more than 100 mph winds churning just off the coast.
"Our biggest fear was flooding," Hall said, "and we didn't have any of it."
Dorian is now sprawling far to the north. In Canada's provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, authorities are hoping for a similarly sunny outcome — but they're not taking a risk. They have already warned of the possibility of tropical-storm-force winds and "rough and pounding surf" related to the hurricane.