KITTY HAWK, N.C. – The wind whipped, the ocean swelled, rivers overwhelmed their banks and rain slapped breathtaking barrier islands Thursday as the big, fat and very dangerous Hurricane Florence lumbered toward the coast.

Storm surge beat the rain to some areas of North Carolina, where water rushed like rivers along streets on the Outer Banks. A short distance inland, downtown New Bern was flooding, and the city’s Union Point Park at confluence of the Neuse and the Trent rivers was underwater.

Florence diminished to Category 2 strength but will remain sufficiently powerful to sock the Carolinas with brutal wind, rain and storm surge. Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long urged people in mandatory evacuation areas to get out. And he warned that the storm cleanup will take time and patience.

“We call them disasters because they break things,” said FEMA associate director Jeff Byard said. “The infrastructure is going to break.”

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Hurricane Florence is still considered an extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm even after it was downgraded to a Category 2 Hurricane. It’s expected to hit the Carolina coastline late Thursday or early Friday. (Sept. 13)
AP

The storm was about 110 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 165 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as of 2 p.m. EST. Tropical force winds extended almost 200 miles from the center, Florence was poised to bring havoc well before making landfall.

That could happen sometime Friday, probably somewhere near the states’ border. 

Tracker: Follow Hurricane Florence forecasted path

More: Florence weakened but far from weak: What to know about storm’s power

“I was just briefed on Hurricane Florence,” President Donald Trump tweeted. “FEMA, First Responders and Law Enforcement are supplied and ready. We are with you!”

More than 1 million people were evacuated from coastal areas, and 10 million live within areas of hurricane or tropical storm warnings and watches. Storm surge of up to 13 feet will be “life threatening” and rainfall of up to 40 inches will mean “catastrophic” flooding, the National Hurricane Center said.

“Do not focus on the wind speed category of #Hurricane #Florence!” the hurricane center tweeted. “Life-threatening storm surge flooding, catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding are still expected.”

In North Carolina, Donny King was unmoved, literally. King and his wife Heather had the chance to use their fortified hurricane room at their Nags Head home. The owners of Ocean Boulevard Bistro and Martini Bar said they would rather face Hurricane Florence’s fierce winds, rain and storm surge head-on in their shear wall-lined bunker.

“In this area it’s going to be fairly bad, the way the storm churns,” Donny King said.

King is preparing for property damage. He figures his benches are made of iron and can be pressure washed and repainted. But some of the tables aren’t so sturdy.

“Those, we’ll just wait for them to break and buy new ones,” he said.

More: Hurricane Florence: Flight cancellations now at 1,400+; more likely

More: Florence dos and don’ts: Ways to keep yourself and your property safe

More: Florence poses new test for Trump after Puerto Rico criticism

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said more than 300,000 people had fled the storm. The Coast Guard shut down the Port of Charleston and warned people off the water.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune urged residents to leave – and to help neighbors, especially the elderly. Don and Lydia Stauder, however, spent Thursday morning taking selfies on the beach to ensure relatives up north that things weren’t too bad.

Now retired, the couple had no qualms about staying put for Florence.

“We’ve got generators and live way above the flood level,” Don Stauder said. “We’re prepared for it.”

Just north of Columbia, South Carolina, Ray Stickley was sitting sat in one of the state’s 35 hurricane shelters and pondering a move to Pennsylvania. He said he stayed when Hurricane Matthew hit two years ago, and his entire trailer shook.

“With this coming, I am not going to take any chances,” Stickley said. ‘I’m 50 miles inland and I’m scared of this storm.”

Maximum sustained winds, once as high as 140 mph decreased Thursday to 105 mph. But Florence has forecast to linger along the coast for a day more, sweeping away trees and power lines. Duke Energy said that up to 75% of its 4 million customers in the two states could lose power.

Duke said 20,000 people will be in place to “attack restoration” as soon as it’s safe.

“We want to continue to send the message that this monster of a storm is not one to ride out,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.

Bacon reported from McLean, Virginia. Contributing: Tim Smith, The Greenville News; Kirk Brown, Anderson, (South Carolina) Independent-Mail; Associated Press

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