Florence sits on doorstep of Carolinas with projected winds of 100mph

West of Charleston South Carolina

Hurricane Florence's leading edge battered the Carolina coast Thursday, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets on the Outer Banks, as the hulking storm closed in with 90 miles per hour (135 kph) winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend.

The National Hurricane Center said early Friday that Florence's eyewall is beginning to approach the North Carolina coast bringing with it life-threatening storm surge.

Hurricane Florence's outer edges have started to batter the coast of North Carolina - with winds of 100mph bending trees and shooting frothy seawater onto the streets.

But the hurricane's sheer size meant it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day, according to weather forecasters. Forecasters predict it will make landfall between Thursday and Friday.

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

Because most are managed as wild animals, numerous horses will be left to fend for themselves, said Paula Gillikin of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve. "We've prepared all our supplies at home and frankly, we were bored". Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.

"You have water coming onshore and you can rainfall coming down that's trying to move out", he said. "The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact-and we have that". "I just figured come here and be safe".

"We live in a mobile home so we were just like 'No way, '" she said.

Most of the damage during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 in North Carolina came from inland flooding - 31 people died and almost 100,000 homes were destroyed.

Duke has said it could take several weeks to fully restore power in areas that are inaccessible due to flooding.

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Florence's top winds were clocked on Thursday evening at 90 miles per hour (150 km/h) as it churned in the Atlantic Ocean, down from a peak of 140 miles per hour (224 km/h) earlier this week when it was classified a Category 4 storm.

An estimated one million people evacuated North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia as the storm moved close to the US.

At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters with more facilities being opened.

That said, the storm is still expected to stall once it hits the Wilmington coast, with weather officials early Thursday raising the expected total rainfall for Wilmington to 35 inches - weather officials had predicted 30 inches for Wilmington in briefings released Wednesday.

Outside of the wind, the broad circulation of the storm will allow for a storm surge north of the center of circulation heading into Friday.

It is set to make landfall midday today near Cape Fear, North Carolina, bringing up to 40 inches of rain, and storm surges as high as 13ft. "All across the state of North Carolina and portions of SC, there will be extreme flooding or major flooding at least for a number of days to come".

Despite pleas from officials, some residents rejected calls to evacuate.

Still, a storm surge can overwhelm the animals, as it did in 2003 when Hurricane Isabel killed five horses and swept three others a few miles away.

They cancelled flights into and out of Wilmington International and Charleston International this week, and even some flights from the coast to inland cities such as Columbia, S.C., and Raleigh-Durham.

Mr Epperson said: "The anxiety level has dropped substantially".

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