Hurricane Florence looms over East Coast — WHAT’S HAPPENING

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"In general, we're expecting see somewhere between 5-10" of rain from Florence. Even from a distance, Florence is expected to bring more sustained easterly winds to the region. "Does this mean we have much less to worry about?"

"People do not live and survive to tell the tale about what their experience is like with storm surge", Long said.

As of Thursday at 5 a.m., forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said wind speeds have dropped from a high of 140 miles per hour (225 kph) to 110 miles per hour (175 kph), reducing it from a Category 4 storm to a Category 2. It's now predicted to make landfall near Wilmington and then head west across SC.

Incredible time-lapse footage filmed from a hurricane-hunting plane shows what's it's like to fly through the eye of Florence, the storm that's already forced more than 1 million people to evacuate.

Flaherty said there is a small piece of good news, in that the "flow" in the southeastern quadrant of the storm has been reduced slightly. Tropical storm-force winds are predicted to arrive by late Thursday morning or early afternoon.

Across several eastern states, residents scrambled to leave as the Category 4 storm, with winds of 225kmh, approached.

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He said the federal government and first responders are ready to assist, but that 'bad things can happen when you're talking about a storm this size'.

The researchers continuously track the hurricane as it makes landfall to collect data on the storm's speed, intensity and structure. The Triangle shouldn't see major effects of Florence, like strong winds and rains, until overnight Thursday, but it is still too early to know the storm's timeline for sure. "Everybody is trying to get out of the coast", she said.

As the trough moves east, it will disrupt the winds that steer the hurricane, Stewart said. Power outages, downed trees and a risk for catastrophic flooding are all potential issues in the Triangle.

ESRI created a tracker to estimate just how many people would be affected by the storm's path given key demographic data from the area inside the error cone. Florence's heavy rains could cause an environmental disaster if waste from hog manure pits, coal ash dumps and other industrial sites wash into homes or threaten drinking water supplies.

Florence could do more than $170bn (£130bn) of damage and affect almost 759,000 homes and businesses, says analytics firm CoreLogic.

"We have a duty to everybody here in the city and we take that very seriously", Vest said.

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"We have extra manpower on the road", Vest said. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and he said it will still be an extremely risky storm for rain and storm surge.

The governor of neighbouring North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination, and parts of coastal Dare County, while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia. Fifty shelters have been opened across the state for evacuees, and a "mega-shelter" that can house at least 1,000 people was opening Wednesday evening at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, he said.

Many people in coastal communities have followed the mandatory evacuation orders, but some are vowing to stay put and ride it out.

If anyone left out there doubts Florence's sheer capacity to wreak havoc in the coming days, this NOAA satellite image (from former NASA scientist and Professor Marshall Shepherd) should do the convincing.

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the hurricane poses serious threats to crops that are just starting to be harvested. The highest surge is forecast from the Cape Fear to Cape Lookout where the surge could be as high as 9 to 12 feet above ground level.

Trump has urged those in the path of Hurricane Florence to act now to 'get out of its way'.

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The NHC said the first tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour (63 kph) would hit the region early on Thursday with the storm's centre reaching the coast Friday.