'Catastrophic' Florence buffets USA east coast

USA forecasters late Thursday, September 13, downgraded Hurricane Florence to a Category 1 storm, as its outer edge lashed the Carolinas with strong winds and heavy rain.

As of 8 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said Florence was centered about 170 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 220 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The center of the storm is expected to hit North Carolina's southern coast by Friday.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 100 miles per hour (160 kph), but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage.

About 10 million people live in the storm's path and more than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Potential threats from hurricanes include powerful winds, heavy rainfall, storm surges, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents, tornadoes, and landslides.

The storm is expected to affect airports in Georgia and Virginia. Officials say people refusing to evacuate could end up alone, drenched and in the dark, as rescue crews won't go out to help in winds above 80 km/h.

Florence was downgraded to a Category 2 storm overnight on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale but it is still packing hurricane-force winds of 100 miles (155 kilometers) per hour, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

"When that last ferry pulls out.it's unnerving to see it pull away and know, 'That's the last chance I have of getting off this island, '" she said Wednesday.

But when Hurricane Matthew unleashed a torrent of rain over North Carolina in October 2016, the already-swollen river quickly overflowed its banks.

"This storm will bring destruction", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said.

The surge will result in "large areas of deep inundation. enhanced by battering waves", the Weather Service said.

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"A weak Category 3 and a strong Category 2 are pretty close to each other, if you just think about category".

Florence's weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who anxious that the storm could still be deadly.

Another video from NOAA's GOES-East weather satellite caught a different view of Hurricane Florence.

Fierce winds and massive waves are expected to lash the coasts of North and SC and Virginia even before Florence makes landfall by early Friday, bringing a storm surge as much as 13 feet (4 meters). Storm surge of 13 feet on top of a high tide at 7 feet could overwhelm the town.

Some 11,000 power outages have been reported in North Carolina. Millions of people were expected to lose power from the storm and restoration could take weeks.

Numerous communities throughout the region have issued either mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.

Forecasters say Florence will likely turn to the west-northwest and slow down its forward motion - a situation that will bring even more rainfall to the area.

"I'm not approaching Florence from fear or panic", he said.

New Hanover County officials said Thursday morning that it could accept more residents seeking shelter at Trask Middle School, Eaton Elementary School, Codington Elementary School, the Johnson Pre-K Center and Noble Middle School.

Virginia and Georgia are also under states of emergency, but it's North and SC that are positioned to suffer the worst of the storm's wrath.

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