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Weakened Hurricane Florence still packs punch, aimed at Southeast | TribLIVE.com
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Weakened Hurricane Florence still packs punch, aimed at Southeast

The Associated Press
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This photo provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, as it threatens the U.S. East Coast. Forecasters said Florence could become an extremely dangerous major hurricane sometime Monday and remain that way for days. (NASA via AP)
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Brady Osborne ties freshly filled sandbags, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Virginia Beach, Va., as Hurricane Florence moves towards the eastern shore. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Sam Bedford, left, and Miller Richey move trash bins from the Isle of Palms Marina on the Isle of Palms, S.C., as Hurricane Florence spins out in the Atlantic ocean Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters Wednesday that the storm could bring more rain to the state than 1989's devastating Hurricane Hugo. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
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Marge Brown, 65, says goodbye to her father, George Brown, 90, before he is evacuated from a healthcare home in Morehead City, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. 'I'd like to stay and see what happens. I'm 90 plus,' said Brown, a WWII veteran who says he's survived a plane crash and severe burns from a laboratory fire where he once worked. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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Beachgoers walk past a cutout along a boardwalk ahead of Hurricane Florence in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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A lady walks under a pier while the surf rises Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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People drive over a drawbridge in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., as they evacuate the area in advance of Hurricane Florence, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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In this Monday afternoon, Sept. 10, 2018 photo provided by DroneBase, waves crash along Avon, N.C., in the Outer Banks ahead of Hurricane Florence. Hurricane Florence churned Tuesday, Sept. 11, toward the Eastern Seaboard as a storm of 'staggering' size, forcing a million people to evacuate the coast. (DroneBase via AP)
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Storefronts have wood paneling installed over windows, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in New Bern, N.C., as a precaution against storm damage from Hurricane Florence. (Gray Whitley/Sun Journal via AP)
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Crews board up the Oceanic restaurant in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in preparation for Hurricane Florence. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP)
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Nick Hobbs, of Marine Warehouse Center, removes a customer's boat from the water in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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Onlookers look out over the Atlantic Ocean as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast of the Carolinas in Kitty Hawk, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The National Weather Service says Hurricane Florence 'will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast.' (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Russell Meadows, left, helps neighbor Rob Muller board up his home ahead of Hurricane Florence in Morehead City, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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Workers take boats out of the water in Wanchese Harbor as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast of the Carolinas on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Wanchese, N.C. The National Weather Service says Hurricane Florence 'will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast.' (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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CORRECTS DATE - Preston Guiher carries a sheet of plywood as he prepares to board up a Wells Fargo bank in preparation for Hurricane Florence in downtown Charleston, S.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
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Adam Gartrell, left, and Colin Kern walk out towards the surf ahead of Hurricane Florence in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP)

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Time is running short to flee Hurricane Florence, a monster of a storm zeroing in on the Southeastern coast with more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights.

Florence’s top sustained wind speeds dropped from a high of 140 mph to 110 mph as its outer rain bands approached the North Carolina coast early Thursday, reducing the storm from Category 4 to Category 2, but forecasters warned that the enormous wind field has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land.

“Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?” said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As of 5 a.m., it was centered about 205 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and about 250 miles east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., moving northwest at 15 mph.

The National Hurricane Center’s best guess was that Florence’s eye would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Then, it will likely hover along the coast Saturday, pushing up to 13 feet of storm surge and dumping 20 to 30 inches of rain on both states, before slogging over the Appalachian Mountains.

The result: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farm fields and industrial sites.

About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million more live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 mph, but that’s still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and the rain and storm surge will make Florence extremely dangerous.

President Donald Trump both touted the government’s readiness and urged people to get out of the way. “Don’t play games with it. It’s a big one,” he said at the White House.

It’s unclear exactly how many people fled, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. Airlines canceled nearly 1,000 flights and counting. Home Depot and Lowe’s activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks.

Duke Energy, the nation’s No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm’s aftermath, it said.

Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.

“In 12 or 18 hours, they may be saying different things all over again,” he said.

Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty. Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.

“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.

In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged them to stay in safer locations despite forecast changes showing Florence’s path largely missing the state.

With their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter’s one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle.

“We’re just trying to plan for the future here, not having a house for an extended period of time,” David Garrigus said.

Melody Rawson evacuated her first-floor apartment in Myrtle Beach and arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., to camp for free with three other adults, her disabled son, two dogs and a pet bird.

“We hope to have something left when we get home,” she said. Three other Southern raceways also opened campgrounds to evacuees.

Forecasters worried the storm’s damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast. The trend is “exceptionally bad news,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it “smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge.”

With South Carolina’s beach towns now more in the bull’s-eye because of the shifting forecast, Ohio vacationers Chris and Nicole Roland put off their departure from North Myrtle Beach to get the maximum amount of time on the sand. Most other beachgoers were long gone.

“It’s been really nice,” Nicole Roland said. “Also, a little creepy. You feel like you should have already left.”

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