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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.

The winds from Hurricane Florence will increase in surges on the North Carolina coast Thursday afternoon, but the forward motion of the storm will also continue to slow down, so it will take until tomorrow until the highest winds will be blowing, and the peak storm surge - the ocean water pushed up over the land - comes in. Florence's maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 105 miles per hour (165 kph).

The center of Florence is expected to approach the coasts of the Carolinas today and move over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern SC tonight and Friday.

Hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles from its centre, and tropical storm force winds reached up to 195 miles from the eye.

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 Charlotte area will likely begin to feel some tropical storm force winds and gusts from Florence late Thursday night as the outer bands make their way farther inland.

The centre said the storm would dump as much as 40 inches (102 cm) of rain along coastal areas of the Carolinas, as well as up to 10 inches in southwestern Virginia.

The result could be what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farms and industrial sites.

Members of law enforcement work with the National Guard to direct traffic onto US Highway 501 as Hurricane Florence approaches the US east coast.

What damage will it cause?

Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and the rain and storm surge will make Florence extremely risky.

Bracing for Hurricane Florence | Don't Miss This
Hurricane Florence Could Bring Up To 30 Inches Of Rain To Carolinas

Officials asked people along the Carolinas coasts to evacuate ahead of the storm, and that time for leaving has almost passed. "Don't play games with it".

Long, the DHS IG's office, and the White House all did not respond to Politico's requests for comment.

At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Cooper said, with more facilities being opened. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks.

Duke Energy Co. said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.

Models agree that excessive amounts of rain will fall in southeastern North Carolina. The core was also about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, reacting to that possibility of a more southerly track, declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.

The storm will be a test of President Donald Trump's administration less than two months before elections that will determine control of Congress and after severe criticism for its handling of last year's Hurricane Maria, which killed some 3,000 people in Puerto Rico.

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.

The powerful hurricane bearing down on the east coast of the United States has led airlines to cancel more than 1,245 flights and waive change fees for travellers affected by the storm, USA Today reports.

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