USA coast battered by wind, rain as Hurricane Florence closes in

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Florence's winds weakened as it drew closer to land, dropping from a peak of 225 kph earlier in the week, and the hurricane was downgraded from a terrifying category four to a two.

But the hurricane's sheer size meant it could batter the US East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day, according to weather forecasters.

Jamie Thompson walks through flooded sections of East Front Street near Union Point Park in New Bern, N.C. Forecasters said conditions will deteriorate throughout Friday.

"This storm will bring destruction", said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.

Even miles away from the Atlantic, North Carolina residents in low-lying areas are boarding up and emptying stores. A few hearty locals gathered at Cape Fear Wine and Beer pub in downtown Wilmington.

He warned residents to be prepared for mass power outages that could last for days or weeks, echoing the sentiments shared by Duke Energy on Wednesday. "We've prepared all our supplies at home and frankly, we were bored".

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) said people living near rivers, streams and lowland areas in the region were most at risk. "If God's coming for you, you can't run from him".

The first thing you think of when you hear the term "hurricane" is high winds, but they invariably bring about flooding, and this is due to the storm surge. I'm glad we both came to the decision ourselves. "We just need to figure out how to make it through". Most of the damage during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 in North Carolina came from inland flooding - 31 people died and almost 100,000 homes were destroyed.

The coastal area of SC features hundreds of inlets while North Carolina has barrier islands miles away from the mainland.

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The storm was about 100 miles southeast of Wilmington and had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, which is slightly weaker than earlier Thursday, the briefing said.

As of 3 a.m., Florence hadn't moved and was still centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.

The Category 3 hurricane with winds of 115 mph is expected to produce 20 to 30 inches of rain in the coast North Carolina area, and 5 to 10 inches in western SC and northern North Carolina, per the National Weather Service.

At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.

Hurricane Florence, once rumored to strike as a Category-5 storm, will strike with less powerful wind, but it will drop much more rain on the area than initially expected.

A tornado watch was also in effect for parts of North Carolina. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Faced with new forecasts that showed a more southerly threat, Georgia's governor joined his counterparts in Virginia and North and SC in declaring a state of emergency, and some residents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes.

When it comes to floods, extreme caution has been advised by state and local officials: just several inches of running floodwater can knock a full-grown person off their feet, and just a foot of running water can sweep a medium-sized passenger auto off the road.

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