Florence to approach the Carolinas coast later Thursday -NHC

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Instead, the state has to move its personnel and equipment from the interstate ahead of the arrival of tropical storm-force winds.

Duke Energy Corp. shut down its Brunswick nuclear plant on North Carolina's southern coast Thursday, and has estimated that as many as 3 million customers face power outages.

Forecasters warned that drenching rains of 30 centimetres to 1 metre as the hurricane-turned-tropical storm crawls westward across North and SC could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.

"This storm will bring destruction to North Carolina", Cooper said.

The rain threat may not stop in the Carolinas.

Social media video showed the seas rising at Hatteras Inlet on the Outer Banks.

The storm was about 35 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, at 5 a.m. local time Saturday, moving west-southwest at 5 mph, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The slower motion will prolong effects from wind, rain and surge in the eastern Carolinas.

Hurricane Florence is continuing on its deadly path, causing widespread flooding and damage despite its downgrading to a tropical storm. In fact, the NHC noted that the wind field of the storm has increased in size.

North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons (36 trillion litres), enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimetres). This includes Wilmington. A hurricane watch extends into the Charleston area.

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The National Weather Service says Hurricane Florence "will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast". The ocean is moving inland ahead of Florence as storm surge begins to flood the Carolinas coast, according to the NHC.

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Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it is unclear how many did.

Like a bulldozer, the storm's winds and forward motion will push a tremendous amount of water onshore when it makes landfall.

After reaching a terrifying Category 4 peak of 225 km/h earlier in the week, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7.15am at Wrightsville Beach, a few kilometres east of Wilmington and not far from the SC line. "Once the weather breaks, it will be fairly obvious if there's a problem, " he said from Raleigh. The storm is expected to turn west and then north moving through the Carolinas and the Ohio Valley by Monday, the NHC said early on Saturday.

- Edisto Beach to South Santee River: 2 to 4 feet.

"Floodwaters may enter numerous structures, and some may become uninhabitable or washed away", the Weather Service warned. As of early Saturday, more than 900,000 people were without power across the Carolinas. "More than likely it's maybe a mindset of 'we've been through this before, '" he said. "Anywhere from 20-to-30" of rain with isolated totals of 40" will drench the coast.

The strongest winds will occur where and when the storm makes landfall in a ring around the calm eye of the storm known as the eyewall.

Florence's winds weakened as it drew closer to land, dropping from a peak of 140 miles per hour earlier in the week, and the hurricane was downgraded from a terrifying Category 4 to a 2. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads.

Utility companies are predicting power outages that could reach between one-to-three million across both North and SC for days and possibly weeks. The storm knocked out power to more than 890,000 homes and businesses, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the United States electrical grid. The flooding began on barrier islands in North Carolina and then spread into coastal and river communities there and in SC, swamping the white sands and golf courses in North Myrtle Beach. Many state museums and other attractions are also closed.