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September 14, 2018

Flooding threat looms: Hurricane Florence’s winds slap Carolina


September 14, 2018

WILMINGTON/SEA BREEZE, N.C: Hurricane Florence´s winds began whipping coastal North Carolina on Thursday as the slow-moving tempest began to unleash fierce rains that forecasters warned would cause catastrophic flooding across a wide swath of the US southeast.

The centre of Florence is expected to hit North Carolina´s southern coast on Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, enough time to drop as much as 40 inches of rain in places, according to the National Hurricane Centre.

An estimated 10 million people live in the storm´s path, according to the US Weather Prediction Centre, and coastal businesses and homes were boarded up in anticipation. More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia and thousands moved to emergency shelters, officials said.

Florence´s maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 105 miles per hour (165 kph) after it was downgraded to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the NHC.

The winds had been as high as 140 mph earlier in the week but North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned against complacency because of the drop. "Hurricane Florence was uninvited but she´s just about here anyway," he said at a news conference.

"My message today: Don´t relax. Don´t get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality." The storm´s center was about 135 miles east of Wilmington, North Carolina, at noon EDT (1600 GMT) but tropical storm-strength winds and heavy rains already were hitting North Carolina´s Outer Banks barrier islands.

Some 11,000 power outages had been reported on Thursday morning. The hurricane centre also said the threat of tornadoes was increasing as the storm neared shore. Florence could bring wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet and NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook they could push in as far as 2 miles..

Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. Roslyn Fleming, 56, said her granddaughter was baptized in the inlet near where she lives in the coastal community of Sea Breeze and on Thursday morning she used her iPad to make a video of the scene.

"I came to video it so I can remember what it looked like before the storm because I just don´t think a lot of this is going to be here (after Florence)," she said.

Ten miles (16 km) away in Wilmington, wind gusts of 20 to 25 mph (32-20 kph) were stirring up frothy white caps into the Cape Fear River, although no rain had yet fallen. Some residents enjoyed a few final hours of normalcy by ambling along the city´s riverwalk with dogs and children.

"We´re a little worried about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now," said Linda Smith, 67, a retired nonprofit director.

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