Trinidadians in the Carolinas prepare for Hurricane Florence

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The downgraded status of the storm, which indicates that Hurricane Florence is moving at maximum sustained wind speeds of 110 miles per hour, means little in terms of its impact and deadly potential, according to Elliot Abrams, chief forecaster at Accuweather.

"This storm will bring destruction to North Carolina", Cooper said.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 160km/h, but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. The power company has warned that up to 3 million people could be left without power for an extended period of time following Hurricane Florence.

Florence, though downgraded to a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, remained unsafe and unpredictable, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. "Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 80 miles (130 km) from the centre and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles (315 km)".

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The National Weather Service has issued a coastal flood warning for the Peninsula, including Williamsburg, James City County and York County, as Hurricane Florence nears landfall in the Carolinas. The gradually slowing but still life-threatening storm is moving northwest at 15 miles per hour (24 kph).

Hurricane Florence has started to hit the North Carolina coast. Early Thursday footage showed stormy seas and dark skies, with an American flag whipping in the wind.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Edisto Beach South Carolina to South Santee River South Carolina. The warning also includes Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, large bodies of water in North Carolina that could also see significant flooding.

He urged people in the coastal Carolinas and living near inland rivers to evacuate.

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Wednesday, the Category 4 storm was about 435 miles southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and moving northwest at about 16 mph. The category three storm is ploughing towards the east coast and is due to make landfall in SC early on Friday morning.

"Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials..."

"Do not focus on the wind speed category of #Hurricane #Florence!" the National Hurricane Center said Thursday morning.

Forecasters say Florence will likely turn to the west-northwest and west and slow down its forward motion - a situation that will bring even more rainfall to the area.

Some areas in the Myrtle Beach/Wilmington area could see as much as 40 inches of rain with storm surges between 9 and 13 feet, overwhelming many beachfront areas and low-lying islands. Storm surge flooding also could push 2 miles or more inland if Florence lingers for days along the coast. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian Mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

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Florence is expected to strike North Carolina's coast on Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, according to Miami's National Hurricane Center (NHC).

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