Hurricane Florence is weakening slightly as it continues toward the Carolina coastal areas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Wednesday, adding that life-threatening storm surge and rainfall were still expected.
Early Wednesday afternoon in North Carolina, the storm was centered 700 kilometers (435 miles) off the coast, moving at 26 kph (16 mph) towards the USA coastline.
A state of emergency has been declared in Georgia, making it the fifth state to do so, as authorities warned of storm surges and catastrophic flooding.More news: Australia paper defends Serena Williams cartoon despite outrage
People fleeing coastal North and SC clogged highways Wednesday as Florence bore down on the coast for a direct hit in a low-lying region dense with beachfront vacation homes.
"This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast", said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Tropical storm-force winds extended 195 miles (315 kilometers) from Florence's center, and hurricane-force winds reached out 70 miles (110 kilometers).More news: The Project: Harper Nielsen On Why She Won't Stand For The Anthem
Duke Energy, a power company in the Carolinas, estimated that one million to three million customers could lose electricity because of the storm and that it could take weeks to restore.
SC ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents while North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination.
"I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence", Deal said. 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. Although wind speeds have dropped - Florence was a Category 4 on Monday with 140 miles per hour winds - the National Hurricane Center warned wind fields are still expanding, and the hurricane has more total energy, which will "create a significant storm-surge event". Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle. "We just need to figure out how to make it through".More news: Check out the official iPhone XS, XS Max and XR promo videos
"Someone's gonna get screwed on this", he said. Most other beachgoers were long gone. "You feel like you should have already left".