Hurricane Florence's leading edge battered the Carolina coast Thursday, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets on the Outer Banks, as the hulking storm closed in with 100 miles per hour winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend.
A weather channel has painted a confronting picture of the worst case scenario for Hurricane Florence, which is now hitting the east coast of the United States. A tattered American flag seen flying on a live surf camera at Frying Pan Tower in North Carolina is evidence of the strong wind gusts pounding the coast.
A camera at the Frying Pan Tower located 34 miles off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina has been livestreaming a view of the Atlantic Ocean since May, and is powering through the storm to dutifully record an American flag over the rising waves.
But that, combined with the storm's slowing forward movement and heavy rains, had North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) says storm surges could bring catastrophic flooding to inland areas.
The Miami-based center said in an update at 11 p.m. EDT Thursday that the storm's eye was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Morehead, City, North Carolina.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 miles per hour (160 kph), but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage.
The hurricane center also said the threat of tornadoes was increasing as Florence neared shore and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said the heavy rains could trigger landslides in the western part of his state.
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But forecasters warned that the widening storm - and its likelihood of lingering around the coast for days - will bring life-threatening storm surge and torrential rains.
Almost 2 million coastal residents are now under mandatory evacuation orders, although it remains unclear how many have actually done so.
When a college football game was canceled due to Hurricane Florence, one of the team's decided to make the best out of the situation.
"With this storm, it's a (Category 1) but the storm surge and the flooding is going to be that of a category 4", CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray said Thursday night.
In Norfolk, Virginia, police were alerted to people dressed in fluorescent vests going door to door and telling residents that they had to leave their homes and businesses, The Associated Press reported Thursday.
After the storm, crews will give priority to critical infrastructures first, then work on fixing lines that will restore power to the most people, but downed trees and flooding could cause delays. Weather forecasts estimate that the Category 2 storm could dump 17 trillion gallons of rain on the East Coast. "I've got four cats inside the house. It's a big one", he said at the White House.
So far, a state of emergency has been declared in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland and Washington DC.
"Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated", he said.