The outer bands of wind and rain from a weakened but still lethal Hurricane Florence began lashing North Carolina on Thursday as the monster storm moved in for a prolonged and potentially catastrophic drenching along the Southeast coast.
Florence was downgraded to a Category 2 storm overnight on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale but it is still packing hurricane-force winds of 105 miles (165 kilometres) per hour, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
The huge storm weakened to a Category 2 hurricane overnight, but forecasters warned that it still packed a risky punch - 110 mile-an-hour (175 kph) winds and torrential rains. Parts of eastern North Carolina and SC could see up to 20 inches of rain, in addition to storm surge.
The storm was heading for the coast of the two states but heavy rain was also expected in Virginia to the north and Georgia to the south. Coastal storm surge is expected to be as high as 13 feet, according to the National Hurricane Center.
"This system is unloading epic amounts of rainfall, in some places measured in feet and not inches", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news briefing.
Citing a current official, Politico also reported that aides were put up in a hotel at taxpayer expense on the weekends Long was in North Carolina.
In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged them to stay in safer locations despite forecast changes showing Florence's path largely missing the state. Flash floods will be a major problem for some areas, and the overall flooding could be catastrophic.
Airlines had also canceled almost 1,000 flights and counting.
However, forecasters say the storm's biggest threat is how much rain it is expected to produce. Just because of the sheer size of it. More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. "Whether you have a house or not, when the storm comes it will bring everyone together".More news: NCDOT warns residents about Florence flooding interstates, highways
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As Florence churned slowly towards the coasts of North and SC as a Category 2 hurricane, federal and state officials issued final appeals to residents to get out of the path of the "once in a lifetime" storm.
The White House has approved requests from North Carolina and SC for federal emergency declarations, allowing for greater coordination among states and federal agencies.
Duke Energy, the nation's No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Tropical storm force winds and hurricane force winds could last for a duration of hours.
Conditions will deteriorate through Thursday (local time): Starting along the coast, winds will accelerate, the rain will intensify, and the ocean will surge ashore.
In the 5 a.m. ET advisory, Florence was 205 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, NC, packing maximum-sustained winds of 110 mph and moving to the northwest at 15 mph.
Waves crash around the Oceana Pier as the outer edges of Hurricane Florence being to affect the coast in Atlantic Beach on Thursday.
Hurricane Florence pushes its way towards the Carolinas coast.
In New Bern, rescue crews saved pulled hundreds of people from flooded homes and still needed to rescue dozens more on Saturday. "Because I don't know that we can go in and get you".
In the tiny community of Sea Breeze near Wilmington, Roslyn Fleming, 56, made a video of the inlet where her granddaughter was baptized because "I just don't think a lot of this is going to be here" later.