Hurricane Florence weakened into a Category 2 hurricane as it moved towards east coast of the United States, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Wednesday, but a life-threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall were still expected.
A storm covering enormous area, to drench and lash more people.
Next week, when Florence has finally passed the Carolinas and moved into the Ohio Valley, the rain will have been the big story.
"Disaster is at the doorstep and is coming in", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. "If you're in a low lying area, get out", Mac Hodges, the mayor of the town of Washington, told NPR's Brakkton Booker.
Utility officials have warned that widespread power outages are likely and that it could take weeks to restore electricity.
But on the east coast, the trends are more clear: stronger hurricanes are happening more often, and farther north. After Florence's rain starts to fall this week, he said, the rainfall could continue through Monday.
More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in his state. Many auto dealerships on the coast were already closed Wednesday ahead of the storm.
"These enormous waves are produced by being trapped along with very strong winds moving in the same direction [of] the storm's motion", the agency said. In Myrtle Beach, S.C., and nearby areas, the surge could hit 6-9 feet.
A unique-and potentially deadly-combination of weather patterns and coastal geography is adding to the uncertainty about where exactly the storm will make landfall, how its intensity might change once it arrives and where it will go inland.
And Florence will nearly surely depress auto production in SC, where Volvo already has closed a new factory near Charleston because it's in an area under mandatory evacuation orders, said spokesman Russell Datz.
"I said, 'Why get on the road like this?"
Emergency preparations in SC now include more than 2,100 of the state's National Guard soldiers.
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Florence is unusual in that it is aiming at the Carolinas from the east. By late Wednesday, authorities in North Carolina reported almost 7,000 evacuees staying in 71 emergency shelters throughout the state.
In Charleston, the city government said that after giving out 53,000 sandbags, "there is no longer any sand available at any city of Charleston location". "I should stay in my house, where I have water and food".
On Thursday morning, a tweet from South Carolina's Emergency Management Division brought this perspective on Florence's sheer size: It's "larger than SC and North Carolina combined".
A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour - producing heavier downpours and providing more energy to hurricanes, boosting their destructive potential.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said: "It truly is really about the whole size of this storm".
Satellite images show Florence has maintained a distinct eye and is well-organized.
"Unfortunately, when storms hit is during our fall season", he said.
Hurricane Florence Wednesday 11 a.m. ET update. The center is slowing down and is expected to stall and perhaps wander around just off shore on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Bertha Bradley said she has never favoured evacuating ahead of hurricanes.
The CoreLogic storm specialists said flash flooding is the greatest danger to people in affected areas, followed by storm surge second and wind damage. Forecasters say 40 inches (one meter) of rain are possible along the coast of North Carolina.
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, farms and industrial sites. That reduced Florence from a Category 4 hurricane to a Category 2, but forecasters warned that the widening storm - and its likelihood of lingering around the coast day after day after day - will bring ocean water surging onto land and torrential rain.
The shift in the projected track spread concern to areas that once thought they were relatively safe.