Hurricane Florence weakens to Category 1 storm

Tropical storm Florence

Hurricane Florence is not expected to make landfall until Friday morning but residents in coastal areas are already losing power as gusts lash the eastern edge of North Carolina.

In its 0300 GMT advisory, the National Hurricane Center said the maximum sustained winds of Florence were 90 miles per hour (150 kilometres per hour), dropping it to the weakest of five categories on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

There are fears tonight that Hurricane Florence which is now close to the US East Coast could result in deaths and catastrophic flooding.

Duke said it had more than 20,000 personnel ready to start fixing outages as soon as conditions allowed, including over 8,000 from the Duke's Carolinas utilities, 1,700 from the Midwest, 1,200 from Florida and 9,400 from other utilities.

Cooper said 108 shelters are open across the state, with more than 7,000 people already staying at them, as of Thursday afternoon.

Florence is forecast to significantly weaken as it crawls across central South Carolina Saturday. More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.

Forecasters said that given the storm's size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds.

Wild horses in the Rachel Carson Reserve in Beaufort, North Carolina will fend for themselves during Hurricane Florence.

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The center said that a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently reported 6.3 feet (1.92 meters) of inundation.

It is the storm's movement and not its strength that has forecasters and officials anxious.

Ken Graham, director of the hurricane center, said on Facebook the storm surges could push in as far as 3 kilometers (2 miles).

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned people: "Today the threat becomes a reality".

The massive cyclone was expected to make landfall on the North Carolina coast Friday, bringing "life-threatening" storm surge and flash flooding while slowly drifting over SC through Saturday. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

With winds picking up along the coastline earlier Thursday, federal and state officials had issued final appeals to residents to get out of the path of the "once in a lifetime" weather system.

After that, Florence is forecast to move northwest and north and move across western SC on Sunday, Sept. 15, and across western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee on Monday, Sept. 16, the NHC said. In the tiny community of Sea Breeze near Wilmington, Roslyn Fleming, 56, made a video of the inlet where her granddaughter was baptized because "I just don't think a lot of this is going to be here" later.

She said a hurricane has a way of bringing everyone to the same level.

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