The outer edge of Hurricane Florence began buffeting the Carolinas with wind and rain on Thursday (Sep 13) as forecasters warned the monster storm would dump copious amounts of rain on the US East Coast and cause life-threatening flooding.
Florence's maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 105 miles per hour (165 kph) after it was downgraded to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the NHC.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 160 kph, but that could still cause at least $1 billion in damage.
Florence crashed into the Carolina coast on Friday, felling trees, dumping almost three feet of rain on some spots and leading to the death of four people before it was downgraded to a tropical storm still capable of wreaking havoc.
Forecasters said conditions will only get more lethal as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina border and makes its way slowly inland. But while the storm is predicted to pass near Wilmington, North Carolina, the majority of surge-related flooding will actually be to north near Pamlico Sound.
"We're keeping some people late until about 8 o'clock tonight in case things happen, and then we're bringing the next shift in, and they'll be here through the night", he said. That makes it hard to project how the region will ultimately be affected.
Florence's center will approach the North and SC coasts late Thursday and Friday.
The National Weather Service forecasts minor to major flooding along rivers anywhere from the Carolinas to Maryland in the coming days.More news: Putin: Peace treaty first, N. islands later
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A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for.
Florence's top winds were clocked on Thursday at 100mph as it churned in the Atlantic Ocean, down from a peak of 140mph earlier this week when it was classified as a Category 4.
At the 500-acre North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, workers shepherded a menagerie including elephants, giraffes and chimpanzees indoors, forming a sort of modern-day, stationary Noah's Ark to ride out the flood. Her team manages 32 wild horses living in the Rachel Carson Reserve near Beaufort, North Carolina.
"We appreciate the patience our customers have shown us in the past and have to beg for more patience this time too", Wheeless said.
In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged people to remain away from home despite forecast changes showing Florence's path largely missing the state.
The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a year ago.
"There definitely is a risk, but the horses are smart".
That was a bad idea, said Avair Vereen, a local nurse who had sought safety in the shelter with her seven children.