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

Forecasters and the USA government are keeping their eyes peeled as Florence, a strong category 2 hurricane, is set to batter the Carolinas on the country's east coast on Friday.

The storm was heading for the coast of the two states but heavy rain was also expected in Virginia to the north and Georgia to the south.

A man runs past a mandatory evacuation sign before Hurricane Florence comes ashore in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on Wednesday.

"As it tracks towards the United Kingdom it will degrade - it will become an ex-tropical storm".

Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.

The briefing said Florence "is a large hurricane" with hurricane-force winds extending 80 miles from its center and tropical storm-force winds extending 195 miles from the eye of the storm.

"Your time is running out", Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said midmorning Thursday.

Florence is about 644 kilometres wide and it's winds have dropped from a peak of 225 km/h to 165 km/h, reducing the hurricane from a terrifying Category 4 to a Category 2.

Even miles away from the Atlantic, North Carolina residents in low-lying areas are boarding up and emptying stores.

Myrtle Beach was virtually deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic.

Just as Hurricane Florence closes in on the Southeast, the area covered by hurricane-force winds has doubled - meaning far more people will get blasted with winds topping 73 miles per hour. "I'm going to Charlotte".

"We have prepared everything", he says, "to have enough food, water, batteries, radio, first-aid supplies, and everything we need to be safe".

As of 11 a.m. EDT, Florence was centered about 145 miles (230 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, its forward movement slowed to 10 mph (17 kph).

People in areas vulnerable to a unsafe hurricane have left or are fleeing ahead of the storm's expected Friday or Saturday landfall.

A storm surge of 2.7m to 3.6 was expected along the North Carolina coast, Goldstein said, and some areas could receive as much as 40 inches (one meter) of rain.

Florence's predicted pause and slow southward turn off North Carolina on Friday means some coastal areas will get damaging hurricane-force winds for more than 24 hours.

The NHC notes that amount of rainfall would "produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding". Operations at airports along the Carolina coastline have also been suspended.

The warmth isn't extraordinary for this time of year, said Amy Seeley, a meteorologist for the weather service.

He said: "We are ready but this is going to be one of the biggest ones to ever hit our country".

Florence is now heading for ocean water that has surface temperatures of about 85 degrees, meaning it will most likely strengthen on its way to the East Coast.

But the Miami-based NHC stressed it remained "a life-threatening situation" due to the risks of storm surge around coastal areas.

"We call them disasters because they break things", FEMA associate director Jeff Byard said.

"The infrastructure is going to break", Long said.

Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, the company said.

"All the way from Arizona to ME, if you just trace a diagonal line on a map and take it right through Chicago, most areas under that line have clear skies right now", he said. "I'm not leaving him here".

Avair Vereen, 39, took her seven children to a shelter in Conway High School. "We just want prayers from everyone". "I've got four cats inside the house".

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