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The National Hurricane Center (NHC)'s predictions of both "catastrophic" flooding and "life-threatening" storm surges has kicked emergency relief efforts into high gear.

The storm's maximum sustained winds were clocked at 120 miles per hour (193 km per hour), down from a peak of 140 mph a day earlier before Florence was downgraded from a Category 4. President Donald Trump preemptively declared an emergency in North Carolina, enabling the state to access federal funds in anticipation of the storm.

The storm is expected to slow down, stall and then perhaps wander just off the Carolina shore as it nears the coast Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The storm is more than likely to develop into a tropical depression and bring several inches of rain to the Houston area.

"It's a very unsafe storm", Federal Emergency Management Authority administrator Jeff Byard said.

"Heed the warnings", said Byard, adding there was "well over $20 billion" in FEMA's disaster relief fund.

McMaster told reporters Thursday that up to 7 inches of rain in the state's northwestern mountains could mean landslides and unsafe conditions.

Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the evacuation of most of the state's coastline as the storm approaches.

"We're talking about days, potentially weeks", Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said Wednesday night on CNN Tonight.

It is expected to move across parts of south-eastern North Carolina and eastern SC, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said.

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Florence was one of two major storms threatening millions of people on opposite sides of the world.

Port of Wilmington, North Carolina, extended operating hours for trains and trucks to clear cargo containers from the complex. North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centres in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities.

Hours before the storm made landfall September 14, workers at New Bern's WCTI-TV NewsChannel 12 had to abandon their studio. Wilmington is expected to get battered before the storm drifts south.

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses could be flooded in North Carolina alone, Governor Cooper said. "It's going to happen".

On the mainland in New Bern, the authorities said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods, and that the downtown area was under water.

"The sun rose this morning on an extremely risky situation and it's going to get worse", he said at a news conference in Raleigh. "But no matter how bad it's going to be, it will pass and our job will be to rebuild this community together, and that's what we're going to do".

"For a meandering storm, the biggest concern - as we saw with Harvey - is the huge amount rainfall", said Chris Landsea, chief of tropical analysis and forecast branch at the National Hurricane Center.

A sailor heaves line in preparation ahead of Hurricane Florence at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia, September 11, 2018. Currently, the storm remains a unsafe category four hurricane. The Outer Banks of North Carolina took the initial brunt Thursday afternoon, with parts of Highway 12 - the main road that runs through Ocracoke and Hatteras islands - flooding and becoming impassable. North Myrtle Beach was almost empty Thursday as the first bands of heavy rain from Hurricane Florence approached.

"A lot of our storefronts are boarded up", said Lynn Davis, town manager for Belhaven which sits at sea level in northeastern North Carolina.


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