Time almost up: Fierce Hurricane Florence aims at Southeast - Story | WFLD

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Fierce winds and massive waves are expected to lash the coasts of North and SC and Virginia even before Florence makes landfall by early Friday, bringing a storm surge as much as 13 feet (4 meters).

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 US southeast.

But the real threat from Florence isn't from wind, it's from water, with the National Hurricane Center warning of "life-threatening storm surge and rainfall".

Windows and doors are boarded up in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Florence September 12, 2018 in Morehead City, North Carolina.

While its exact path remains uncertain it is expected to bring huge amounts of rainfall wherever it strikes.

"On the forecast track, the center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC later tonight, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and northeastern SC in the hurricane warning area on Friday", the briefing said. Currently, the hurricane-force winds extend outward 80 miles from the center and tropical storm-force winds extend almost 200 miles from the eye.

Hurricane Florence is at the doorstep of North and SC, and she's not going away anytime soon. If the two systems become tropical storms, it would be the first time the Atlantic has had five named storms at once, Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach said.

More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.

A National Guardsman directs counterflow traffic traveling west from Myrtle Beach on United States 501 as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast, Wednesday, September 12, 2018, in Conway, South Carolina.

While Hurricane Florence has weakened to a Category 2 storm, officials warn that an extreme storm surge and catastrophic flooding are still on the way.

US President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for the Carolina states, as well as Virginia, and Mr Trump has also freed up federal funds for assistance.

"Don't play games with it".

Masters said there's a tug-of-war between two clear-skies high-pressure systems - one off the coast and one over MI.

Many people in coastal communities have followed the mandatory evacuation orders, but some are vowing to stay put and ride it out.

Schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia, airlines cancelled about 1,200 flights and counting, and coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely emptied out. 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 1100 trucks.

On Instagram, parenting blogger Chrissy Marie, based in North Carolina, posted a photo of her kids' hurricane party, complete with bright pink balloons.

Duke Energy, a power company in the Carolinas, estimated that one million to three million customers could lose electricity because of the storm and that it could take weeks to restore. Forecasters are predicting as much as 40in of rain in some localized areas.

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

Hurricane Florence pushes its way towards the Carolinas coast.

Model data shows Florence being a very patient storm.

"They told me to bring a pillow and blanket", Whisler said.

More than one million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia, and thousands had moved to emergency shelters, officials said.

At 11 a.m., Florence was spinning less than 200 miles from the coast. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle. "We just want prayers from everyone".

Isaac, along with Florence, Helene and two other systems increasingly likely to form, have set a hectic pace for the Atlantic - even busier than previous year when Harvey, Isaac and Maria made landfall within three weeks of each other.

"We hope to have something left when we get home", she said.