Hurricane Florence is battering the Carolina coast, but the eye of the storm will move over land overnight on Thursday into early Friday morning.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent".
Florence's maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 165 kph after it was downgraded to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the NHC. He added later, "Most of the fatalities in these tropical systems is water". The National Hurricane Center is calling for 20 to 30 inches of rain in North Carolina, with spots up to 40 inches. The storm will have winds in the 110 miles per hour range. That is now the case in the Carolinas - the state sent Maryland Task Force One, an urban search-and-rescue team based in Rockville, to SC on Wednesday. Older homes and less-reinforced homes will sustain some wind damage as well.
The storm's centre was about 180km east of Wilmington, North Carolina, at 2pm local time (18:00 GMT) but tropical storm-strength winds and heavy rains already were hitting North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands. The warning also includes Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, large bodies of water in North Carolina that could also see significant flooding. Officials are urging others in its path to follow suit, or prepare for the worst. The National Weather Service said about 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches. But even much lower flood levels can be risky and reach surprisingly far inland, as The Weather Channel demonstrated in a stunning video released today.
Life-threatening storm surges of up to 13 feet have been forecast in some areas when the monster storm eventually makes landfall in North and SC.
Calling the storm surge prediction "incredible", Graham said that because Florence will likely nudge its way onto the coast, giving its hurricane winds lots of time to force water inland, he wouldn't be surprised "to see storm surge a mile, a mile and a half inland - maybe even two miles or more, in some cases".
"Some say North Carolina is getting a break, but we are on the wrong side of this story", he said.
Emergency preparations in the area included activating 2,800 National Guard troops in North Carolina, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so that major roads led away from shore and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the three-state region. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station say Hurricane Florence is so massive, they had to use a super wide-angle lens to capture photographs of the storm from space.
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