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WILMINGTON, N.C. — Hurricane Florence could batter parts of coastal North and South Carolina with hurricane conditions for 24 hours or more and bring up to 40 inches of rain in its center, federal emergency officials said Wednesday.
Here’s the latest on Hurricane Florence
- The Category 3 storm is forecast to bring 15-25 inches of rain in some areas, with up to 40 inches of rainfall near its exact center.
- As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, the storm was about 335 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. It was moving northwest at 16 mph.
- About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been warned to evacuate.
- Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland have declared states of emergency.
The storm was expected to make landfall late Thursday or Friday in coastal North Carolina and then potentially stall churning its way slowly down the coast, FEMA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration liaison Steve Goldstein said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
“This could mean that parts of North and South Carolina near the coast will experience hurricane-force winds and hurricane conditions for 24 hours or more,” he said.
But regardless of when actual landfall occurs, hurricane-force winds were extending 70 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds were extending outward of 195 miles from the center, the hurricane center said. A large area of North Carolina was forecast to get 10 inches of rain or more Friday into Saturday.
“This is not going to be a glancing blow,” said Jeff Byard, FEMA’s associate administrator for response and recovery. “This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.”
The storm weakened to a Category 3 hurricane Wednesday afternoon and more weakening is expected to begin by late Thursday. But the National Hurricane Center warned, “Florence is forecast to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it nears the U.S. coast late Thursday and Friday.”
Wilmington, a city of around 119,000 on North Carolina’s coast, is along the forecast track. In the final hours before authorities shut down access to Wrightsville Beach, a town just east of Wilmington along the ocean, residents scrambled to secure their possessions, board up their windows, pack their cars and head inland.
Many lived through past storms, including hurricanes Fran and Bertha in 1996 and Floyd in 1999. They expected Florence to be at least as bad. But they largely accepted that with a sense of calm, saying that most homes on the island were more resilient than the cottages wiped out in those prior storms.
“It’s a much different beach here now,” said local Todd Schoen, just before he drove off the island with his wife and 9-year-old twin sons to stay with his parents four miles inland. “They’re all better prepared. A lot of those old beach houses are gone. They were trampled, washed away, knocked down and replaced with other bigger, better constructed houses. It’s a different time now.”
Duke Energy, the main power supplier for North and South Carolina, said on Twitter that as many as 1 million to 3 million of the company’s 4 million customers could experience power outages.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned those under evacuation orders that time was running out and urged the state to prepare for the powerful storm.
“North Carolina, my message is clear: Disaster is at the doorstep and it’s coming in,” he said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “If you’re on the coast, there’s still time to get out safely. No possession is worth your life.”
He warned North Carolinians to plan to be without power for days and “understand the rain may last for days and not hours.”
“The National Weather Service has just said it will be unbelievably damaging and they can’t emphasize that enough,” he added. Cooper said on MSNBC that some 2,800 National Guard soldiers have been activated and others are standing by.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency on Wednesday afternoon, joining South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. West Virginia has declared a state of preparedness.
“In light of the storm’s forecasted southward track after making landfall, I encourage Georgians to be prepared for the inland effects of the storm as well as the ensuing storm surge in coastal areas,” he said in a statement.
Christina Saracina, a resident of Cape Carteret, North Carolina, said she was evacuating with her elderly parents and headed to Atlanta.
“We sat through a Category 2 hurricane before and it did enough damage that we decided that if it was a Category 3 or above we were out,” she said. “It was a hard decision because you’re leaving all your possessions and your home. You’re trying to pack whatever you can and go.”
She said she boarded up her home and her parents’ home before leaving.
“The area was going to be a disaster zone,” she said. “There’s a lot of trees in the area and we’re by the water.”