Georgia joined North and South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland in issuing an emergency declaration as forecasts showed Florence dumping historic amounts of rain - potentially 10 trillion gallons - on the southern states. "That's the second story of a house", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday morning.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm's strength should continue through Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) downgraded Florence to a Category 2 storm from Category 3 on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale, the second such drop in the space of hours.
"Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles (110 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (280 km)". Slower storms mean more rainfall over a smaller area.
The Hurricane Florence has began to unleash fierce rains across the USA southeast.
"Think of it like a marathon", said Mark Robinson, from The Weather Network, also in Wilmington with Kourounis. "We're about to be in the thick of it".
The outer reaches of Hurricane Florence began lashing coastal North Carolina with heavy winds and flooded roads on Thursday ahead of an expected landfall that will bring walls of water and lingering downpours.
As of 10am Thursday (local time), Florence's top winds were 177km/h, and it was marching northwest at16km/h, about 257km east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 329km east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Regardless of whether a system forms, they say heavy rain and gusty winds are likely along the Texas and Louisiana coast later this week. "It's something we haven't seen. ever".
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"That is a concern our team of meteorologists has - if it stalls and how much rain could possibly fall within a certain period of time", says Feinstein, adding concerns that there could be "massive flooding of runways and other infrastructure".
Florence's winds had dropped from a peak of 140 miles per hour to 105 miles per hour by Thursday, reducing the hurricane from a terrifying Category 4 to a 2.
All four major United States airlines have said they are capping selected airfares below what last-minute tickets would cost. "Significant river flooding is expected as a result of excessive rainfall across area hydrologic basins".
The storm surge - often the most perilous risk to life posed by any hurricane - is expected to inundate areas along the coast with saltwater that's 9 to 13 feet deep, from Cape Fear, N.C., to Cape Lookout, N.C.
"Extremely risky winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage". A lot of people hearing this are remembering Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
It's unclear exactly how many people fled, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. On Thursday morning, South 17th Street, usually teeming with commuter traffic by 6:30 a.m., was almost devoid of cars.
The Knightdale High shelter is also open to Carteret County residents, according to television station WITN.