Hurricane Florence starts battering US East Coast

This enhanced satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence off the eastern coast of the United States on Wednesday Sept. 12 2018 at 5:52 p.m. EDT

McMaster also said there may be water coming from rivers from North and SC, which could lead to flooding. "This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding", the National Hurricane Center said.

Calling the storm surge prediction "incredible", Graham said that because Florence will likely nudge its way onto the coast, giving its hurricane winds lots of time to force water inland, he wouldn't be surprised "to see storm surge a mile, a mile and a half inland - maybe even two miles or more, in some cases".

Don't relax, don't get complacent.

It's unclear exactly how many people fled ahead of the storm, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. "I'm going to get killed on the road, '" Bradley said. The storm is expected to turn west and then north moving through the Carolinas and the Ohio Valley by Monday, the NHC said early on Saturday.

"Florence was anticipated to make a steady, assured progress directly towards the Carolinas, make landfall, and move directly inland".

A primary power supplier in the Carolinas, Duke Energy is already warning that some 75 percent of its 4 million customers could lose power - and not just for a few hours.

"For a meandering storm, the biggest concern - as we saw with Harvey - is the huge amount of rainfall", said Chris Landsea, chief of tropical analysis and forecast branch at the National Hurricane Center. "I've never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked".

"I was feeling fine until I woke up this morning and this is a ghost town", said Kristin Beard, a 40-year-old Myrtle Beach marketer.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100mph, but that is still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage.

"The shelters are not taking dogs", Ramirez said.

But the mayor says she knows many people are ignoring evacuation orders. The gradually slowing but still life-threatening storm is moving northwest at 15 miles per hour (24 kph).

President Trump spoke with the senators of North Carolina and SC, telling them they have the full support of the federal government and the feds will be there to help with anything their states may need.

Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the storm with his dog Canelo.

NOAA's advisory also states that the southeastern and mid-Atlantic states should monitor the progress of Hurricane Florence closely. The rest of South and North Carolina, including cities from Charlotte to Raleigh, can expect 6 to 12 inches of rain - and up to 2 feet in isolated areas, the NHC warned.

As of 11am local time, Florence was centred about 145 miles south east of Wilmington and its forward movement slowed to 10mph.

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