Hurricane Florence: North Carolina residents urged to leave

A large rain cloud passes over a day before the arrival of hurricane Florence in Wilmington North Carolina

Bracing for Hurricane Florence | Don't Miss This

"We have 2 out-of-state FEMA teams here for swift water rescue".

As of 11pm local time (4am BST), the storm was centred 280 miles south-east of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving north-west at 17 mph. Rescue workers in North Carolina meanwhile were scrambling to save people stranded in their homes.

One grocery store in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, sported a plea for divine intervention - with forecasters warning that the threat of devastation remains high despite the downgrade.

Wilmington, North Carolina, just north of where the hurricane is expected to come ashore, was sunny around midday on Wednesday as the town appeared to be emptying. Electricity remained out for much of the city, with power lines lying across many roads like wet strands of spaghetti.

The Virginia National Guard says 1,200 personnel are staged and ready to respond as Hurricane Florence approaches.

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 centre reaching the coast Friday.

In its 1 a.m. Friday update, the NHC said Florence was about 45 miles east of Wilmington, NC, packing maximum-sustained winds of 90 mph.

The flooding soon spread into SC, swamping places like North Myrtle Beach, in a resort area known for its white sands and multitude of golf courses.

Hurricane Florence crashed into the Carolinas on Friday, knocking down trees and swamping streets with torrential rains and a powerful storm surge, before slowing to a pace that meant it would plague the area with days of flooding.

Hurricane Florence put a corridor of more than 10 million people in the crosshairs Wednesday as the monster storm closed in on the Carolinas, uncertainty over its projected path spreading worry across a widening swath of the Southeast.

Oddly, the closer Hurricane Florence gets to land the murkier its future gets. But the change was probably temporary and didn't do anything to lessen the danger, said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Hurricane Florence has weakened to a Category 2 storm as it approaches landfall in the U.S. - but it is very slow moving and could linger the coastline bringing catastrophic flooding and heavy losses to insurers. Airlines had canceled almost 1,000 flights and counting through Friday.

A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on their home in Wilmington.

New Bern is a town of around 30,000 people on the Neuse River, near North Carolina's coast.

Authorities in New Bern said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods and that the downtown area was underwater. They also forecast up to 40 inches of rainfall in some isolated areas of the Carolinas.

And there's "a huge difference" in the size and type of damage Florence inflicts if it stays 50 miles (80 kilometers) off shore versus heading inland immediately, Landsea said.

Weak steering current will allow the hurricane to drift westward along the SC coast and inland, and center over the state's interior Sunday morning, the NHC projected.

"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth", he said.

"Our friend behind our old house, they have gators swimming in the water".

The president said: "The safety of American people is my absolute highest priority". Trump plans a visit to the region next week.

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