Despite slower winds, Hurricane Florence still grave threat

Hurricane Florence, growing in size despite its weakening winds on Wednesday, crept closer to the U.S. East Coast as disaster mobilizations expanded south from the Carolinas into Georgia to counter the deadly threat of high seas and floods.

The center of Florence, no longer classified as a major hurricane but still posing a grave threat to life and property, is expected to strike North Carolina’s southern coast on Friday, then drift southwest along the shoreline before moving inland on Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds were clocked late on Wednesday at 110 miles per hour (175 kph), down from a peak of 140 mph a day earlier, before it was downgraded to a Category 3, then a Category 2, on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of wind strength.

“While Florence has weakened below major hurricane intensity, the wind field of the hurricane continues to grow in size,” the NHC said in its latest bulletin.

A long stretch of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard remained vulnerable to hurricane and tropical storm conditions, from Georgia north through the Carolinas into Virginia. And Florence remained capable of unleashing rain-fueled catastrophic flooding of rivers and low-lying areas across a wide region.

“The time to prepare is almost over,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a morning news conference. “Disaster is at the doorstep and it’s coming in.”

Besides inundating the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet (4 meters) along the Carolina coast, Florence could dump 20 to 30 inches (51-76 cm) of rain, with up to 40 inches in parts of North Carolina, the NHC said.

Downpours and flooding would be especially severe, lasting for days, if the storm stalls over land. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses could be flooded in North Carolina alone, Governor Cooper warned.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in his state. Similar declarations were made earlier in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

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