Hurricane Florence weakens, US East Coast still on high alert | Infographics

Bracing for Hurricane Florence | Don't Miss This

Despite the potentially devastating hurricane being downgraded to category two on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the governor of Georgia has joined his counterparts in Virginia and the Carolinas in declaring a state of emergency.

People in areas vulnerable to the unsafe hurricane, particularly those in coastal regions, have fled ahead of the storm. But authorities warn Florence has an enormous wind field as it zeroes in on the Southeast U.S. coast, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land and making Florence extremely risky.

The storm was centred about 835 miles (1340 kilometres) southeast of Bermuda and moving west at 7 mph (11 kph).

Though Florence won't be making landfall until Friday, tropical-storm-force winds - 39 to 73 miles per hour (63 to 117 km/h) - will begin whipping through coastal regions as early as tomorrow, making it exceptionally unsafe to be outside, Graham said.

The National Hurricane Centre estimated Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.

"If you are refusing to leave during this mandatory evacuation, you need to do things like notify your legal next of kin because the loss of life is very, very possible", Mayor Mitch Colvin said at a news conference.

Usually when a storm approaches the coast, forecasters can tell with ever-increasing accuracy who will get walloped.

"It's not the middle of a hurricane yet, so why not come for a beer?" said Waters, 54. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks.

Duke Energy, the second-largest energy company in the U.S., said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its four million customers in the Carolinas.

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More than 100 people were rescued and up to 75 more were awaiting rescue on Saturday morning, according to a town official. Forecasters say catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected over parts of North Carolina and SC ahead.

Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty.

Despite pleas from officials, some residents rejected calls to evacuate.

And there's "a huge difference" in the size and type of damage Florence inflicts if it stays 50 miles (80 kilometers) off shore versus heading inland immediately, Landsea said.

Their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter's one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte.

As the trough moves east, it will disrupt the winds that steer the hurricane, Stewart said.

Forecasters are anxious the storm's damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast.

SC ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents while North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination.

Holly Waters, a retired special education teacher from Wilmington, said she was happy to have a place to go to relax before the storm worsened. Most other beachgoers were long gone. "Also, a little creepy".

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