As hurricane bears down on Carolinas, the waiting is over

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While Florence was downgraded from a Category 4 to 2 on Wednesday due to its declining wind speed, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) emphasized on Twitter Thursday morning that "life-threatening storm surge flooding, catastrophic flash flooding, and prolonged significant river flooding are still expected".

Florence was 155 miles (250km) east of Myrtle Beach in SC at 17:00 EDT (21:00 GMT), and is projected to make landfall on Friday at 08:00 local time. The storm crossed the Gulf Stream on Thursday and slowed dramatically, to just 5 miles per hour, as it approached land. But while the storm is predicted to pass near Wilmington, North Carolina, the majority of surge-related flooding will actually be to north near Pamlico Sound.

Florence is widely seen as a test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), whose capabilities were stretched thin previous year as it responded to three major hurricanes. Virginia, in fact, has issued mandatory evacuations for coastal areas of the state. There's a Tropical Storm Warning for the I-95 corridor there too.

This same zone will be hammered by winds gusting up to hurricane force for almost a day while tropical-storm conditions could linger twice that long. They said the military had made sites, including Fort Bragg, North Carolina, available to FEMA as staging areas for relief equipment and had put helicopters and high-wheeled vehicles at the ready in different sites in the southeast for search and rescue use.

According to the National Weather Service, storm surges occur when hurricane winds blow along the surface of the ocean and cause water to build up as the storm gets closer to the shoreline.

Cooper also wanted to remind folks to not drive on roads covered by water, and to stay away from doors and windows during the worst of the storm.

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In the North Carolina town of Wilmington, which could take a direct hit from Florence, wind gusts were stirring up frothy white caps into the Cape Fear River. We're on the weak, dry side of the storm.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent".

Based on the latest reports from the National Hurricane Center, the storm is going to pass through SC, he said.

More than 10 million people are under watches and warnings, the Associated Press reported.

Forecasters' European climate model is predicting two trillion to 11 trillion gallons of rain will fall on North Carolina over the next week, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com. After criticism for its response in Puerto Rico to last year's Hurricane Maria, which officials there said was responsible for 3,000 deaths, Trump has vowed a vigorous response to Florence and defended his handling of Maria.

Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

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Her neighbors gave her the key to their house, which is two stories and might be safer from flooding, she said.

"If you find yourself here [in rising floodwaters], you need to get out", she said. They also have three dogs and three parrots.

"Either no (hotel) rooms are available, or we are denied because the breed or size of dogs", she said.

South Carolina's state capital Columbia is at only 89m (292ft). We will continue to see lingering showers and storms to start the work week.

Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic.

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