The US east coast girded for a battering from Hurricane Florence late Thursday as the monster storm's outer edge began lashing the Carolinas with heavy wind and rain, which forecasters warned could trigger life-threatening floods even as it further weakened.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves almost 30 feet high as Florence churned toward shore. The Category 1 storm has maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour and is moving slowly, at 6 miles per hour.
The impact is expected to be similar to that of Hurricane Harvey on the Houston area a year ago, Feltgen said.
Florence could bring wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as four metres and NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook they could push in as far as three kilometres.
Early on Friday, the downtown area of the city of New Bern, on the Trent and Neuse rivers near the North Carolina coast, was underwater as emergency crews conducted several rescues, according to reports on social media.
Landfall is expected late Thursday or early Friday, and the National Hurricane Center fears the storm "will slow considerably or stall, leading to a prolonged and exceptionally heavy and unsafe rainfall event Friday-Sunday".
"I don't care if this goes down to a Category 1", CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
Florence is forecasted to to meander southward through SC after landfall, then it will eventually get caught in the upper level flow and move out of the region.More news: Arsenal manager Unai Emery preparing for 'difficult' Newcastle United test
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But North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent. Well, we're about to get punched in the face".
"Since my husband retired and my health declined, we have his retirement as an income".
Six feet (1.8m) of storm surge could carry large objects like cars underwater and leave lower levels structures submerged in water, according to Dr Postel.
GETTY IMAGES |AFPAbout 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders and millions of others live in areas likely to be affected by what officials called a "once in a lifetime" storm.
Florence's expected slowdown means a prolonged period near the coast, said the hurricane center's Joel Cline.
Tornadoes are possible in eastern North Carolina through Friday.
At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.
Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
"When that last ferry pulls out.it's unnerving to see it pull away and know, 'That's the last chance I have of getting off this island, '" she said Wednesday.