Hurricane Florence weakens but deluges Carolinas ahead of landfall

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And that's just the prelude to untold days of misery.

Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm but it is still being classed as extremely unsafe and life-threatening storm. What also makes this hurricane extremely unsafe are the deadly storm surges, mammoth coastal flooding and historic rainfall expected far inland.

"I don't care if this goes down to a Category 1", CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

Florence is projecting hurricane-force winds outward up to 80 miles from its center; tropical-storm-force winds are swirling outward up to 195 miles away.In addition to the hurricane's obvious risks, the National Weather Service says, "A few tornadoes are possible in eastern North Carolina through Friday".

North Carolina has had this problem before.

"It's cumulative damage", Myers said. So will the trees.

Winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence moved in for an extended stay, with enough of its killer winds swirling overseas to maintain its power.

The Charlotte area will likely begin to feel some tropical storm force winds and gusts from Florence late Thursday night as the outer bands make their way farther inland. "We're trying to get everybody out and as such we're shutting the hospital down", said Dr. John Pangia of Grand Strand Health.

The barrier island of Emerald Isle is under water, with ocean waves rolling in over a six-foot storm surge and crashing into homes. Officials are urging others in its path to follow suit, or prepare for the worst.

"The time to prepare is nearly over", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a morning news conference.

Into the weekend, as the winds start to slacken at the coast and the surge subsides, the rains are likely to keeping coming.

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Up to 40 inches of rain could fall in North Carolina. Shelters in the city were filling and some people were being bused inland to Raleigh, even though some residents there were told they might have to evacuate because of flooding.

"Even the rescuers can not stay there", he said.

Myrtle Beach International Airport in SC has also suspended commercial operations, and urges passengers to check with their airlines - not the airport - about upcoming itineraries. They also instituted a 24-hour curfew.

The NC Coastal Review reported Wednesday that state transportation officials were focused this week on keeping the "island's lifeline" open, in anticipation of 50,000 people using NC 12 as a hurricane evacuation route. Beyond Friday's torrential rain, multi-foot storm surge and widespread power outages, Florence will continue to batter the region through early next week.

"Our sand dunes are healthy, but they're not going to be able to keep back a wall of water like that", he said.

"We expect to see sea level rise up to six meters and rainfall which amounts to the annual amount of rainfall in one day", its secretary-general Petteri Taalas told a news briefing on Thursday.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia, jamming westbound roads and highways for miles.

Oddly, the closer Hurricane Florence gets to land, the murkier its future gets.

"Watch out, America! #HurricaneFlorence is so enormous, we could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens from the @Space_Station, 400 km directly above the eye", German astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted. The more the Great Lakes one wins, the more southerly Florence will be.

Here is the latest forecast bubble for the storm ... Recall that Hurricane Ike was a similar Category 2 when it came ashore near Houston 10 years ago, with catastrophic results in unprotected coastal communities.

There are now four named storms in the Atlantic basin with subtropical storm Joyce named Wednesday, and two areas of disturbed weather with chances of development.