As North Carolina residents began to feel the first modest effects of a weakened Hurricane Florence on Thursday, forecasters warned the powerful storm will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours.
Florence's eye could come ashore early Friday around the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Then it is likely to hover along the coast Saturday, pushing up to 13 feet (nearly 4 meters) of storm surge and unloading water on both states. More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. The National Weather Service said about 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches.
Some ignored warnings, choosing instead to hunker down at home and take their chances. The police chief of a barrier island in Florence's bulls'-eye said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave.
Adding to concerns, forecasters warned the larger and slow-moving storm could linger for days around the coast, leaving many without power and supplies.
Duke Energy said Florence, now a Category 2, could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.
Florence’s winds had dropped from a peak of 140 mph (225 kph) to 105 mph (165 kph) by midmorning, reducing the hurricane from a Category 4 to a Category 2. But forecasters warned that the widening storm — and its likelihood of lingering around the coast day after day — will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours.
“It truly is really about the whole size of this storm,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. “The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact — and we have that.”
As of 11 a.m. EDT, Florence was centered about 145 miles (230 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, its forward movement slowed to 10 mph (17 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometers).
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