Flights cancelled in the US Southeast as Hurricane Florence approaches

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption Why do people ignore hurricane warnings

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Why do people ignore hurricane warnings

The winds had been as high as 140 miles per hour earlier in the week when the storm had rated as a Category 4 major storm, but North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned against complacency because of the drop.

Bertha Bradley said she has never favored evacuating ahead of hurricanes.

At 2300 EDT (0300 GMT), the NHC said Florence had maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (65 km), and was slowly drifting westward over SC.

In the 5 a.m. ET advisory, Florence was 205 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, NC, packing maximum-sustained winds of 110 mph and moving to the northwest at 15 mph.

As Florence churned slowly towards the coasts of North and SC as a Category 2 hurricane, federal and state officials issued final appeals to residents to get out of the path of the "once in a lifetime" storm.

It is expected that the hurricane moves on or near the coastline during the night of Thursday through Friday. Then, it will likely hover along the coast on Saturday (Sunday NZT), pushing up to 4m of storm surge and dumping 50 to 75cm of rain on both states, before slogging over the Appalachian Mountains.

The result could be catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, fields and industrial sites.

It is unclear exactly how many people fled, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.

What damage will it cause?

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As North Carolina residents began to feel the first modest effects of a weakened Hurricane Florence on Thursday, forecasters warned the powerful storm will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours. "Don't play games with it". St. Helena Island near the South Carolina-Georgia line is used to riding out big storms - from one that killed an estimated 2,000 people in 1893 to Tropical Storm Irma a year ago. The government of Puerto Rico accepted these numbers, too, after many months in which the official death toll was listed at 64 people.

Airlines cancelled almost 1,000 flights and counting. Home Depot and Lowe's activated emergency response centres to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm.

The two hardware chains said they sent a total of around 1,100 trucks.

The rest of South and North Carolina as well as southwest Virginia may see up to 24 inches of rain. In the eastern parts of the Carolinas, Duke says the outages could last several weeks before power is fully restored due to flooding. "I'm going to get killed on the road, '" Bradley said.

South Carolina's beach towns are more in the bull's-eye because of the shifting forecast.

"In 12 or 18 hours, they may be saying different things all over again", he said. Florence is a large hurricane.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, reacting to that possibility of a more southerly track, declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations. And an unusual combination of other weather systems that likely will stall Florence when it hits land, allowing it to sit for days and dump huge amounts of rain.

Authorities in coastal areas that lie in the path of the massive storm are urging residents one last time to evacuate.

The storm's forward motion has slowed 11km/h since Wednesday (local time), which was predicted as the storm nears the coast. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle. "Now it might be time for the exam", he said. Three other Southern raceways also opened campgrounds to evacuees.

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