Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour, the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.
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By midnight, areas of coastal North Carolina were experiencing life-threatening storm surge, the National Weather Service said.
The hurricane is expected to make landfall around Wilmington on Friday morning.
The "threat of freshwater flooding will increase over the next several days" in the impacted areas.
Screaming winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence's leading edge whipped the Carolina coast Thursday to begin an onslaught that could last for days, leaving a wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising seas.
The US National Hurricane Center described how winds of up to 90 miles (150 kilometers) per hour were pummeling the state of North Carolina. "The broadening of the event also signals that storm surge and flooding will remain important drivers of overall loss".
Florence's winds weakened as it drew closer to land, dropping from a peak of 225 kph earlier in the week, and the hurricane was downgraded from a terrifying category four to a two. On North Carolina's Outer Banks, water flowed through the streets of Hatteras Village, and some of the few people still left in Nags Head took photos of angry waves topped with white froth.
Hurricane Florence is on a path of destruction that will put millions of people at risk and threaten billions of dollars in property damage, centered on the Carolinas, through this weekend.
The center said that a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently reported 6.3 feet (1.92 meters) of inundation.
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The declaration also provides assistance to local governments for cleanup efforts following the storm, including building repairs. Today, this band of intense, prolonged rainfall will move over areas that have already received between 5 and 15 inches of rain.
Forecasters also say the storm surge - or wall of water - that the hurricane's winds and forward movement push on shore, could cause normally dry areas to be flooded by up to 4 m of water moving inland.
According to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, thirty-thousand people lost power across the state as of 5 PM and that number continues to rise.
"There is going to be a lot of rain".
"We're a little anxious about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now", Smith said. "Our meteorologists are saying that the rainfall amounts will be devastating in certain areas", he said. It said it was located about 40 miles (65 km) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and forecasters predicted a slow westward march. Forecasters said "catastrophic" freshwater flooding was expected along waterways far from the coast of the Carolinas.
The remainder of SC and North Carolina into southwest Virginia could see 6 to 12 inches, with some isolated areas seeing 15 inches. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles. Airlines cancelled almost 1,000 flights and counting.
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. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency on the federal level Tuesday for the Carolinas and Virginia.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for.
Note: This may not be the most recent forecast, please visit www.myfox8.com or open the FOX8 app for the very latest on Hurricane Florence.
A hurricane warning is in effect for South Santee River, SC, north to Duck, NC, and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.