Time almost up: Fierce Hurricane Florence aims at Southeast - Story | WFLD

Time almost up: Fierce Hurricane Florence aims at Southeast - Story | WFLD

The outer bands of wind and rain from a weakened but still lethal Hurricane Florence began lashing North Carolina on Thursday as the monster storm moved in for a prolonged and potentially catastrophic stay along the Southeast coast that could drench the homes of as many as 10 million people.

Just as Hurricane Florence closes in on the Southeast, the area covered by hurricane-force winds has doubled - meaning far more people will get blasted with winds topping 73 miles per hour.

Florence was about 170 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, N.C., at 8 a.m. ET Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.

The expected high winds and slow movement of the hurricane as it comes ashore are likely to make rescue efforts in flooded areas challenging, senior US Defence Department officials say. The huge storm could unleash a 13-foot wall of water in some areas - with a one-two punch of up to 40 inches of rain.

The result could be what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farm fields and industrial sites. The non-emergency call center for Hurricane Florence is 919-996-2999.

On Thursday night, city officials in Jacksonville, North Carolina, posted photos of a toppled gas pump and a downed tree after wind gusts exceeded 80 miles per hour, warning residents to stay indoors as the hurricane passes.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 160 kmh, but that's still enough to cause at least US$1 billion in damage. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and he said it will still be an extremely unsafe storm for rain and storm surge.

As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are "supplied and ready", and he disputed the official conclusion that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad. "Don't play games with it".

Not far away in Wilmington, ABC correspondent Jim Ryan said a local Waffle House that has remained open has been doing good business.

Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it's unclear how many did. Home Depot and Lowes activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1100 trucks.

Duke Energy Co. said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.

The company has enlisted more than 10,000 employees, including 1,700 workers from the Midwest and 1,200 from Florida to help in the relief efforts to get the power turned back on as quickly as possible.

It's also notable that there are three hurricanes, including Florence, lined up in the Atlantic at the same time.

"In 12 or 18 hours, they may be saying different things all over again", he said. Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.

Michele Johnson said she's anxious about her husband, but "I think he's OK with me going, so I don't stress him out more".

With their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughters one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle.

The storm is expected to slowly move inland, battering much of the U.S. coast for days. "We have two boats and all our worldly possessions", said Susan Patchkofsky, who refused her family's pleas to evacuate and stayed at Emerald Isle with her husband. Such a slow, meandering trajectory could create devastating storm surges and flooding from Georgetown S.C. all the way to the North Carolina-Virginia border. Florence has weakened a bit over 24 hours, but it's also grown even larger - and it will likely dump torrential rain over North and SC through Monday. Most other beachgoers were long gone. "Today the threat becomes a reality". "Also, a little creepy". And if we feel the need to leave we'll go.