Hurricane Florence's winds and rain begin lashing US Carolinas coast

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However, forecasters warned that the enormous wind field has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land.

"For a meandering storm, the biggest concern - as we saw with Harvey - is the huge amount of rainfall", said Chris Landsea, head of tropical analysis and forecast branch at the National Hurricane Centre.

He said hurricane-force winds extend outward 80 miles from the center of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extend almost 200 miles out.

That would actually be Florence's storm surge, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. "Heed any flood watches and warnings".

While Montreal remains warm and humid, cold air has filtered into western Canada, with the first snowflakes of the season across northern Alberta and B.C. At the same time, no less than 5 tropical systems are in the Atlantic basin, including powerful hurricane Florence. A storm surge warning is in effect for South Santee River South Carolina to Duck North Carolina.

A storm surge of nine to 12 feet (2.7-3.6 metres) was expected along the North Carolina coast, Goldstein said, and some areas could receive as much as 40 inches (one metre) of rain.

The police chief of a barrier island in Florence's approach said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave. "I hope we don't but that might be the only thing that would affect us", James said.

Roy Cooper urged residents in evacuation areas of his state to get out while they still can. Don't get complacent. Stay on guard.

"Inland flooding will be a major threat and something people far from the landfall location should be concerned about", Miller said.

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Outer bands from the hurricane are now lashing land, at least a full day before the National Hurricane Center expects the slow-moving storm's eye to blow ashore around the North Carolina-South Carolina line.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 miles per hour, but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind does.

Officials say the storm will pack a severe punch and bring a region with 10 million people a "deadly" storm surge, historic flooding and catastrophic winds. Airlines cancelled almost 1000 flights and counting. The shopping list for people who have made a decision to ride out the storm at home: plywood to board up their windows, sandbags, bilge pumps, generators, trash bags, potato chips, bottled water and wine. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1100 trucks.

He warned residents to be prepared for mass power outages that could last for days or weeks, echoing the sentiments shared by Duke Energy on Wednesday.

Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the storm with his dog Canelo.

Some Florence evacuees are steering toward Bristol Motor Speedway near the Tennessee-Virginia border and Atlanta Motor Speedway, where campgrounds have been opened for people fleeing the storm.

Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that was later downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a Wilmington hotel several miles inland.

"It was pitch black and I was just scared out of my mind", said Tracy Singleton, who with her family later drove through torrential rain and high winds from her home near New Bern.

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