Florence weakens to Category 2 hurricane but still life-threatening: NHC

Ismael LynchSep 13, 2018

Florence is forecast to move slowly over the Carolinas after making landfall Thursday night or Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Florence's top sustained wind speeds dropped from a high of 140 miles per hour (225 kph) to 110 miles per hour (175 kph) as its outer rain bands approached the North Carolina coast early Thursday, reducing the storm from Category 4 to Category 2, but forecasters warned that the enormous wind field has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land.

The storm's center was about 135 miles (216 km) east of Wilmington, North Carolina, at noon EDT (1600 GMT) but tropical storm-strength winds and heavy rains already were hitting North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands. Hurricane Florence on Wednesday night weakened to a Category 2 storm over the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds of about 175 km per hour, authorities said.

The coastal areas of North Carolina are expected to bear the brunt of the storm surge, with a nine to 13-foot (four-meter) wall of water pushing inland.

The result: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farm fields and industrial sites.

Emergency preparations in the region included activating 2,800 National Guard troops in North Carolina, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so major roads led away from shore, and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the Carolinas and Virginia.

At the White House, President Donald Trump both touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way of Florence.

"Don't play games with it". It's a big one'.

More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia and thousands moved to emergency shelters, officials said. Airlines canceled almost 1,000 flights and counting. And up to 3 million energy customers in North and SC could lose power for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC. Noting the heavy bands on the hurricane's northeast quadrant, he added, "We are on the bad side of this storm".

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.

A woman holding a child sleeps after being evacuated at Southeast Raleigh High School ahead of Hurricane Florence in Raleigh, N.C. on Wednesday.

Despite advice from officials to evacuate, some residents have made a decision to ride out the storm, boarding up their homes and staying put.

A gas station is out of service before the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina, the United States, on September 12, 2018. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle.

"Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?" said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Three other Southern raceways also opened campgrounds to evacuees. But forecasters warned that the widening storm - and its likelihood of lingering around the coast day after day - will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours.

The CoreLogic storm specialists said flash flooding is the greatest danger to people in affected areas, followed by storm surge second and wind damage. The storm was about 435 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and 470 miles east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Most other beachgoers were long gone.

"It's been really nice", Nicole Roland said. "Also, a little creepy".

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