Hurricane Florence begins to batter USA east coast

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Coastal North Carolina felt the first bite of Hurricane Florence on Thursday as winds began to rise, a prelude to the slow-moving tempest that forecasters warned would cause catastrophic flooding across a wide swath of the USA southeast. Its forward movement increased slightly to 6 miles per hour (9 kph).

The Miami-based center says Florence is bringing "catastrophic" fresh water flooding over a wide area of the Carolinas.

The hurricane was seen as a major test for the country's Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico past year.

More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm approached, and more than 12,000 were in shelters.

Officials found a basketball-sized hole in the hotel wall and other life-threatening damage, with some cinder blocks crumbling and parts of the roof collapsing.

Drivers using the Waze App around 5:30 p.m. reported slow-moving and standstill conditions, along with several stopped cars on the route, particularly around the Hardeeville-Ridgeland area and near Exit 8, which leads to Hilton Head Island.

At least 188,000 people were without power in North Carolina and SC. A city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts told WRAL-TV that 200 people have already been plucked to safety.

"We're on the wrong side of this storm".

Gillikin says the North Carolina Coastal Reserve stands ready to respond with whatever resources they can to help any animal suffering after the storm.

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It was expected to make landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, whose river was forecast by Monday to reach two feet above the record level it hit during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the National Weather Service said.

The National Hurricane Center's best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.

Forecasters are calling Hurricane Florence a "generational storm".

The storm was about 100 miles southeast of Wilmington and had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, which is slightly weaker than earlier Thursday, the briefing said. Its forward movement increased slightly to 6 miles per hour (9 kph).

The National Hurricane Center warned the threat of tornadoes was increasing as Florence neared shore and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said the heavy rains could trigger landslides in the western part of his state.

The storm remained a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour.

Gerst tweeted some more images and warnings to the people in the path of the storm.

As of 2 a.m., Florence was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina. The power company has warned that up to 3 million people could be left without power for an extended period of time following Hurricane Florence.

Screaming winds bent trees and raindrops flew sideways as Florence's leading edge battered the Carolina coast Thursday. The Wilmington area can now expect 9-to-13-foot storm surges if Florence's peak impact coincides with high tide, Brunswick County coastal areas west of Southport can expect 6-to-9-foot surges.

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