Carolinas coastal residents wait, watch as Florence's fury begins

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Michelle Stober loaded up valuables at her home on Wrightsville Beach to drive back to her primary residence in Cary, North Carolina.

Ten miles (16 km) away in Wilmington, wind gusts of 20 to 25 mph (32-20 kph) were stirring up frothy white caps into the Cape Fear River, although no rain had yet fallen.

The wide storm has weakened to a Category 2 hurricane and forecasters expect top winds to drop more as it nears the shore, but they're sharing a giant dose of uncertainty.

At 2:20 a.m. EDT (0230 UTC) on September 13, Moderate Resolution Imagine Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite analyzed Hurricane Florence in infrared light. The hurricane center also adjusted its projected track, but kept it north of what most computer models were showing, to provide some continuity with past forecasts.

Flooding from both the storm surge and rainfall could be "catastrophic", the National Hurricane Center warned.

Mayor Joe Benson said the storm will batter the oceanside town through two high tide periods.

"There's the storm surge, 9 to 13 feet, that has not changed from yesterday even though they have downgraded the storm".

"Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?" said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Flooding is nearly guaranteed".

It is still expected to bring a storm surge of up to 13ft (4 metres), plus waves, at the North Carolina coast on Thursday before slowing down and dumping a huge amount of rain, triggering damaging flooding further inland.

Hurricane Florence is now a category 2 hurricane, with winds of close to 110mph (177km/h).

The zone where these intense winds occur will be narrow and they will last just a few hours, but the effects will probably be severe, similar to a tornado.

That's because the weather systems that usually push and pull a storm are disappearing as Florence nears land around the border between North and SC.

The National Hurricane Center's best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then slog its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses and farm fields. When and where it will make landfall is unclear.

"I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence", Deal said.

North Carolina and SC are bracing for the onslaught, which could bring storm surges as high as nine feet and rainfall of as much as 40 inches in some areas.

An estimated 10 million people live in areas expected to be placed under a hurricane or storm advisory, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

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But the biggest danger could be life-threatening storm surges.

As the hurricane closed in, some residents wondered whether to ride it out.

In Wilmington, Richard King, 64, said Wednesday that he, his wife and perhaps 60 of their neighbors planned to stay.

Florence's winds dropped from a peak of 140 miles per hour to 105 miles per hour early Thursday.

"We're a good community up there".

"I don't care if this goes down to a Category 1", CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said on Thursday.

People on barrier islands or peninsulas were running out of time Wednesday to retreat by bridge or ferry.

Tim Terman's house in Southport, North Carolina, is about 20 feet above sea level. One North Carolina woman packed flowers to leave on her son's grave. "Everyone was sold out", she said.

"Historical rainfall amounts from #Florence are possible with UNPRECEDENTED flooding", according to the National Weather Service office in Newport and Morehead City, on North Carolina's coast.

The contraflow will end Thursday at noon on 501 and at 6 p.m. on I-26.

"Pets are not allowed inside Red Cross evacuation shelters", McMaster said.

While the storm's maximum sustained winds edged lower on Wednesday, tropical-storm-force winds have expanded, extending 195 miles outward, putting more people at risk when it finally makes landfall.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that storm surge watches and warnings are in effect Wednesday for the entire North Carolina coast and parts of SC. It urged residents to heed evacuation orders.

Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. "If God's coming for you, you can't run from him".

Subtropical Storm Joyce, which formed in the North Atlantic Tuesday, is also not expected to hit the U.S. It is forecast to become a tropical storm in the next day or so while drifting to the southwest.

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