Life-threatening storm and heavy winds began to lash the United States overnight as Hurricane Florence edged towards the east coast.
Hurricane-force winds are moving across portions of the North Carolina coast, and water levels were rising along parts of the coastline. The threat of tornadoes increases as Florence moves closer, with landfall expected Friday morning.
The storm surge is expected to worsen early Friday during high tide in the Atlantic Ocean.
Hurricane Florence's onslaught begins
By midnight, areas of coastal North Carolina were experiencing life-threatening storm surge, the National Weather Service said.
In its 0300 GMT advisory, the National Hurricane Center said the maximum sustained winds of Florence were 90 miles per hour (150 kilometers per hour), dropping it to the weakest of five categories on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
But the storm still carried "very dangerous winds," the Center added.
1.7 million people under mandatory evacuation
Officials have warned the storm has the potential to kill "a lot of people" amid risks of "catastrophic" flooding.
About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders and millions of others live in areas likely to be affected by what officials called a "once in a lifetime" storm.
South Carolina ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents while North Carolina announced an evacuation of the Outer Banks, a popular tourist destination.
In Virginia, 245,000 coastal residents were told to flee. A state of emergency has been declared in five coastal states -- North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia -- as well as the US capital Washington.
Monster storm surge expected
At 11:00 pm (0300 GMT), Florence was over the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and moving northwest at six miles per hour, the NHC said.
Steve Goldstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Florence's forward motion had slowed and it was not expected to make landfall in the Carolinas until "some time Friday afternoon, Friday evening or Saturday morning."
He said hurricane-force winds extended outward 80 miles from the center of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extended nearly 200 miles out.
Some areas could receive as much as 40 inches (one meter) of rain, forecasters said.
"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding," the NHC said.
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