Hurricane Florence: North Carolina residents urged to leave

North Carolina resident Roberto Guzman carries belongings from his mobile home as he leaves Wilmington a day before the storm is due to strike

Forecast models predict Florence's center may slow to a crawl just off North Carolina early Friday and make a southwesterly turn - punishing the coast while moving perhaps only 2 to 3 miles per hour.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that Florence's maximum sustained winds had eased slightly to 115 miles per hour (185 kph) and it had been downgraded to a Category 3 storm from a Category 4 on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale.

The NHC said the first tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour (63 kph) would hit the region early on Thursday with the storm's center reaching the coast Friday.

Florence became a risky Category 3 hurricane Wednesday afternoon before it downgraded to a Category 2 Wednesday night with winds at 110mph. When Hurricane Floyd made landfall near Cape Fear in 1999 as a Category 2 storm, bloated carcasses of hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens and other drowned livestock bobbed in a nose-stinging soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline so toxic that fish flopped helplessly to escape it.

Officials in New Hanover County, which includes Wilmington, have stockpiled enough food and water for 60,000 people for four days, along with more than 28,000 tarps.

A National Weather Service forecaster said: "This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast".

Though Florence has weakened slightly, it's still a very unsafe storm, and a life-threatening storm surge and rainfall are expected. For comparison, Hurricane Irene caused a 7-foot surge in 2011, and Hurricane Hazel caused an 18-foot surge in Calabash and Carolina Shores in 1954.

The storm surge risk will be highest between Southport and Surf City.

The latest predictions also show that, while Florence will pack less powerful winds, it will also slow down, allowing it to drop much more rain on the Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender county areas.

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Florence is being trailed in the Atlantic by two other storms - Hurricane Helene and Tropical Storm Isaac.

The latest flash flood predictions for Friday and Saturday.

"Precautionary preparations for major flooding are advised", Kottlowski said.

An area from Virginia Beach to Charleston can also expect closer to 6 inches.

The hurricane's sheer size means it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day, according to weather forecasters.

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018.

Recent forecasts show the likely path of the hurricane and surrounding storm to head southwards after smacking into North Carolina and SC.

Some Florence evacuees are steering toward Bristol Motor Speedway near the Tennessee-Virginia border and Atlanta Motor Speedway, where campgrounds have been opened for people fleeing the storm.

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