USA hurricane could kill 'a lot of people'

Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head N.C. on Sept. 13 as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast

Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head N.C. on Sept. 13 as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast

Hurricane Florence's leading edge is battering the Carolina coast, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets, as the hulking storm closes in with 160kph winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend.

-Intensity: Florence came ashore with top winds of 90 miles per hour (145 kph), below the 111 miles per hour (178 kph) threshold for a "major" hurricane but still extremely risky. It is now at Category 1.

Even so, many residents of Myrtle Beach proudly recalled how they had weathered a number of storms in the past and were confident they could ride out Florence too.

SC officials say more than 400,000 people have evacuated the state's coast and more than 4,000 people have taken refuge in shelters as Hurricane Florence approaches.

High winds, life-threatening storm-surge flooding and significant rain are expected across a much wider area, according to the NHC.

McMaster and state officials urged residents eager to return home after the hurricane to be patient, stressing Florence will be a long-term event.

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

"It truly is really about the whole size of this storm", National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham told AP. Municipal power agencies, including New Bern and Southport, have not reported any outages yet.

In the North Carolina town of Wilmington, which could take a direct hit from Florence, wind gusts were stirring up frothy white caps into the Cape Fear River. "But can't replace us, so we made a decision to come here", said the 39-year-old. "We just bought a new house so I'm kinda nervous". "But we can't replace us so we chose to come here".

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At 15:00 GMT (11:00 am), Florence was over the Atlantic Ocean about 230 km (145 miles) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and moving northwest at 17 kph (10 mph), the NHC said.

Nationwide more than 1,000 flights were cancelled as Florence is expected to hover over the Carolinas, bringing near non-stop rain for days.

The storm's intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to around 90 miles per hour (144 kph) by nightfall.

He said that people living near rivers, streams and lowland areas in the region were most at risk. Forecasters said "catastrophic" freshwater flooding was expected along waterways far from the coast of the Carolinas.

In certain parts of the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline (particularly the Wilmington, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC area), storm surges are predicted to be higher than ten feet.

Florence crashed into the Carolina coast on Friday, felling trees, dumping almost three feet (0.91 m) of rain on some spots and leading to the deaths of at least four people before it was downgraded to a tropical storm still capable of wreaking havoc.

Florence is forecast to significantly weaken as it crawls across central South Carolina Saturday.

Utility companies are predicting power outages that could reach between one-to-three million across both North and SC for days and possibly weeks. Not everybody was heeding orders to evacuate, however. Officials also said one person was electrocuted in Lenoir County while plugging in a generator in the rain, and a man died after being blown to the ground while checking on his hunting dogs.

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