Florence's center will approach the North and SC coasts late Thursday and Friday.
Leaders of the states in the path of the storm have warned people all week to evacuate the most susceptible areas. "Catastrophic effects will be felt". With Hurricane Florence set to wallop the area as a Category 4 hurricane, there are fears the ponds could overflow or even collapse amid extremely heavy rain, sending vast amounts of manure from thousands of farms into rivers and contaminating groundwater. Categories only represent the speed of sustained winds, and these are still destructive.
"Little change in strength is expected before the center reaches the coast, with weakening expected after the center moves inland", the National Hurricane Center said.
Reports out of Wilmington, North Carolina, said that the outer bands of wind and rain from Florence, a Category 2 storm with 105 miles per hour winds, are hitting North Carolina.
Winds were already picking up along the coastline early Thursday and some minor flooding was reported on the Outer Banks, barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, and in some seaside coastal towns.
Myrtle Beach, a SC beach resort, was virtually deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified, causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker.
Avair Vereen, 39, took her seven children to a shelter in Conway High School near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
"This is an excellent opportunity for all of us to remind individuals that these storms can come up quickly, and we need to be prepared", County Executive Don Mohler said.
Steve Goldstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Florence's forward motion had slowed overnight and it was not expected to make landfall in the Carolinas until "some time Friday afternoon, Friday evening or Saturday morning".
He said hurricane-force winds extended outward 80 miles from the center of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extended almost 200 miles out.
Up to 10 inches of rain is predicted as far west from the Atlantic Ocean as Charlotte, N.C., the NHC's Ken Graham said Thursday. "Leaving is such a problem with the traffic going out", Jennie told VOA Thursday afternoon as she strolled along the shore of Carolina Beach near Wilmington, North Carolina.
"This is a very unsafe storm", said FEMA's Long, urging people still in evacuation zones to heed orders to flee to safer ground. "Your time is running out".
Janey Camp, a research associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University, said the "biggest concern" for those not along the coast "is the deluge of precipitation that comes with" hurricanes.
He said there are about 7,000 U.S. military forces now in place and ready to respond to the storm - along with ships, helicopters and high-wheeled vehicles.
Forecasters said that given the storm's size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds.
SC ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents while North Carolina announced an evacuation of the Outer Banks, a popular tourist destination. "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".
The head of Duke Energy Corp.'s North Carolina operations says it could take weeks to restore electricity if the company's prediction that 1 million to 3 million of its 4 million customers lose power.
Some people, such as Jennie, are refusing to heed evacuation warnings.
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