Hurricane Florence closes in on Carolinas

Don't play games with it, says Trump as Hurricane Florence heads for US East Coast

"There's 25% more people living between Charleston (South Carolina) and Morehead City (North Carolina) than there were when Hugo was making landfall", Myers said.

The storm's center was about 145 miles (230 km) east of Wilmington, North Carolina, at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) but tropical storm-strength winds and heavy rains already were hitting North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands.

A Category 2 storm packs sustained wind speeds of 96-110 miles per hour (154-177 kilometers/hour) and is no longer considered a "major" storm - a class belonging to hurricanes Cat 3 and up.

Forecasters' European climate model is predicting 2 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.

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

"The forecast shows a storm surge higher than many homes", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.

"Large size and slower forward motion as Florence comes ashore is bad news". Florence's hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 195 miles (315 kilometers) from the eye.

"We expect those numbers to rise significantly over the next 24 hours, as the storm approaches and airlines finalize their operations plans", said Sara Orsi, a spokesperson for FlightAware.

United States emergency officials have warned "time is running out" for people to escape from Hurricane Florence as outer bands of wind and rain began lashing North Carolina.

As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are "supplied and ready", and he disputed the official conclusion that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad.

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Airlines cancelled almost 1,000 flights and counting.

"Hurricane Florence was uninvited but she's just about here anyway", he said at a news conference.

"We hope to have something left when we get home", she said.

Nearly 800,000 people are reported to be without power already in North Carolina, and officials have warned restoring electricity could take days or even weeks.

Hurricane Florence is at the doorstep of North and SC, and she's not going away anytime soon. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.

Some parts of North Carolina have already seen surges as high as 10ft (3m) in places.

Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that was later downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a Wilmington hotel several miles inland.

"Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated", he said.

"I said, 'Why get on the road like this?"

"We have prepared everything", he says, "to have enough food, water, batteries, radio, first-aid supplies, and everything we need to be safe". "I want to get them as far away as possible".

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