The Latest: Myrtle Beach like a ghost town

RALEIGH, N.C./ MYRTLE BEACH (AP) The Latest on Hurricane Florence (all times local):

Photo: Alexnander Gerst / NASA

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6:50 p.m.

Power outages in North Carolina have increased as a weakened and slower Hurricane Florence moves closer to the coast.

The two major electric utilities covering the state -Duke Energy and Dominion- and a consortium of electric cooperatives reported more than 80,000 customers without power as of early Thursday evening. That doesn't include numbers from dozens of city-operated electricity providers.

Almost two-thirds of the reported outages originated in Carteret County, along the coast about 100 miles (161 kilometers) northeast of Wilmington, North Carolina. There were also several thousand outages each in Craven, Pamlico and Onslow counties.

The numbers are expected to soar as the storm's winds and torrential rains sweep over more land. Duke anticipates 1 million to 3 million of their 4 million customers in the Carolinas will lose power from Florence.

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6:50 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says there are over 12,000 people in 126 shelters as the first effects of Hurricane Florence begin to batter the state.

Cooper spoke at a news conference Thursday afternoon with state emergency management officials. The governor said tens of thousands are without power and roads are beginning to flood along the coast.

The governor said those were "early warnings of the days to come."

Cooper says officials are also in the process of opening more shelters because demand is expected to continue to increase.

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6:20 p.m.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says residents should shelter in place and stay off the roads as Hurricane Florence starts to come ashore in the Carolinas and its effects make their way north.

Northam spoke at a news conference Thursday with emergency management officials. He says parts of Virginia will likely see tropical storm-force winds, flooding and several inches (centimeters) of rain.

Although the forecast for Virginia is less severe than earlier in the week, Northam says "now is not the time to let down our guard."

He notes that forecasts for the weekend show a continued threat to southwest Virginia as the storm is expected to make a gradual northerly turn.

Jeff Stern is the state's coordinator of emergency management. He says there are nearly 400 people in shelters across the state.

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6:20 p.m.

A flight-tracking service says airlines have canceled more than 1,500 flights through Saturday.

FlightAware says that was the number as of Thursday evening.

At least 140 flights were canceled Thursday in both Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, although that amounted to only around 8 percent of flights at the sprawling Charlotte airport. Several airports along the coast were virtually shut down.

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5:30 p.m.

South Carolina's most popular tourist destination is like a ghost town.

North Myrtle Beach was nearly empty Thursday as the first bands of heavy rain from Hurricane Florence approached.

A few locals briefly walked into the sand but were quickly sandblasted back by stiff winds.

One man tried to skimboard, but gave up after a few minutes as winds from the land cut down the waves. He called the ocean "Lake Myrtle" as he walked back to his car.

There was several hundred feet (meters) of sand between the dunes and ocean as a low tide approached around 5 p.m. Thursday. The sky occasionally spit a drop or two of rain, but the steady rain bands remained to the north.

A police officer sat nearby to talk to anyone who ventured too close to the surf.

The area called the Grand Strand attracts 18 million visitors a year. On Thursday, every restaurant, beachwear shop and mini golf course was closed.

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5:30 p.m.

Hurricane Florence is gradually slowing and weakening as its eye nears land.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the Category 2 storm was centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 155 miles (250 kilometers) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its forward movement was 5 mph (7 kph) and top sustained winds stayed at 100 mph (155 kph).

Florence's outer bands of wind and rain began lashing North Carolina on Thursday. Its center will approach the coast later Thursday and make landfall around the North Carolina-South Carolina line.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say the storm will weaken after landfall but also linger, dumping heavy rains for days.

Florence's hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 195 miles (315 kilometers) from the eye.

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5:30 p.m.

Ryan Maue of weather-tracking site weathermodels.com says the European climate model is predicting that Florence will dump more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of rain in parts of North and South Carolina.

Measured another way, the same model predicts 2 trillion to 11 trillion gallons (7.5 trillion to 41 trillion liters) of rain will fall in the Carolinas over the next week.

The National Hurricane Center says Florence could dump 20 to 30 inches (50 to 75 centimeters) of rain, with some places getting as much as 40 inches (1 meter).

Forecasters from the center are predicting a storm surge of 7 to 11 feet (2 to 3 meters) in the area from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, North Carolina, with some higher amounts possible in the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo and Bay rivers.

They're estimating a storm surge of 2 to 4 feet (60 centimeters to 1 meter) from Edisto Beach to the South Santee River in South Carolina, and 6 to 9 feet (2 to 3 meters) from Cape Lookout to the Ocracoke Inlet in North Carolina.

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5:30 p.m.

Hurricane Florence has become an issue in a North Carolina congressional race.

As 9th District Democratic candidate Dan McCready announced he was suspending his campaign during the storm, The Charlotte Observer reports Republican rival Mark Harris has bought more local cable television ad time on The Weather Channel to run in the coming days.

Harris consultant Jordan Shaw on Thursday called McCready's campaign suspension a "transparent gimmick designed to score political points by taking advantage of a dangerous situation." But Andrew Bates with the liberal-leaning super PAC American Bridge said Harris' decision to buy ads as Florence approached reflected the campaign's "rotten values."

Harris, McCready and Libertarian Jeff Scott are running for the seat currently held by Robert Pittenger, who lost in the GOP primary to Harris.

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5:30 p.m.

Airbnb says its hosts will offer free lodging to Hurricane Florence evacuees and emergency relief workers through Oct. 1.

The home-sharing company said in a news release Thursday that more than 400 hosts are participating so far in the cities of Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia; Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina; Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina; and Charlottesville, Virginia.

Airbnb says evacuees or emergency workers can sign into its app and will see a tab directing them to free shelter. They are asked to click a box confirming they have been affected by the storm.

Airbnb says it will also waive its booking fees for those guests.

Airbnb hosts have offered free stays before, starting with Hurricane Sandy in 2012. More than 700 people also hosted evacuees and rescue workers during Hurricane Harvey last year.

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4:25 p.m.

As Hurricane Florence begins to batter North Carolina, the state's governor has asked President Donald Trump for another federal disaster declaration beyond what the president declared earlier this week.

Gov. Roy Cooper requested the added disaster declaration Thursday because he anticipates what his office calls "historic major damage" across the state from the hurricane.

Cooper's office says the current emergency declaration is helping state officials prepare for the storm. It says the additional declaration would bring more federal help with debris removal, search and rescue teams, meals and generators, among other items.

Cooper is seeking the new declaration so that federal funds and other assistance can be received as soon as possible.

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4 p.m.

The approach of Hurricane Florence has given one South Carolina beach community a sort of split personality - businesses closed and boarded up while surfers flock to the beach to take advantage of storm-churned waves.

Molly Reagan strolled in the sand Thursday on Sullivan's Island after leaving her office job early. She said she was one of the only people who showed up for work. Many had heeded evacuation orders that included the island just east of Charleston.

The sky was cloudy and waves crashed along the beach. But Reagan said the weather remained calm and "the only thing crazy here is the amount of people out surfing."

A hurricane watch was in effect for the Charleston area. Reagan said she's not worried: "It's looking like we may get tropical storm conditions. Maybe."

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3:15 p.m.

South Carolina officials say more than 400,000 people have evacuated the state's coast and more than 4,000 people have taken refuge in shelters as Hurricane Florence approaches.

State Transportation Department Secretary Christy Hall said Thursday that an estimated 421,000 residents had left the coast.

Acting Department of Social Services Director Joan Meacham says shelters are about 12 percent full with the 4,000 residents. Meacham says the state can house more than 35,000 people if needed. She says 61 shelters have opened thus far, including 12 that are specially outfitted to help people with special medical needs.

Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the evacuation of most of the state's coastline as the storm approaches.

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2:45 p.m.

Officials say Hurricane Florence could bring not only flooding but also landslides to South Carolina.

The National Weather Service is forecasting "significant" river flooding, especially in the northeastern portion of the state. That same area experienced dangerous flooding after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters Thursday that up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain in the state's northwestern mountains could mean landslides and dangerous conditions.

McMaster has ordered evacuations along much of the state's coast. He warned residents to be prepared to be without electricity "for a long time" in the storm's aftermath.

The outer bands of Hurricane Florence have begun to impact the coast of North Carolina.

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2:45 p.m.

Two amphibious Navy ships are on standby to respond and provide disaster relief after Hurricane Florence moves through.

Navy Lt. Jamie Seibel said Thursday that the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and the amphibious transport ship USS Arlington are the two ships that have been tapped to respond.

Seibel says about 800 Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are aboard the two ships, which will move directly to where they are needed once the storm passes.

Seibel said the ships already have the resources and supplies they need, including a fleet surgical team, engineers and damage assessment personnel, as well as heavy- and medium-lift helicopters, search-and-rescue aircraft and smaller ship-to-shore landing craft.

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2:45 p.m.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says hurricane-force winds are starting to get really close to shore as Florence slowly nears the Carolinas.

Graham says it may not be until Monday or Tuesday before the system moves away from North Carolina and South Carolina. He says that in the storm's wake will be a lot of rainfall, a lot of river flooding and "a lot of issues."

Television footage Thursday afternoon showed water in a street at knee level due to storm surge in New Bern, North Carolina.

Graham says that because so much water is being pushed ashore by Florence, rivers and inlets that normally flow out to sea will be forced to flow in the opposite direction. Storm surge also could push several miles (kilometers) inland.

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2 p.m.

Power outages already are creeping up along the North Carolina coast as tropical storm-force winds started sweeping over land.

Electric utilities and cooperatives reported about 12,000 outages statewide as of early Thursday afternoon, with nearly all of them at the coast. Most of the homes and businesses without electricity are in Carteret and Craven counties. Both are north of the eye's projected path and expected to get massive amounts of rain- potentially 20 inches (50 centimeters) or more.

Duke Energy is the largest of the utilities in the Carolinas. The company predicts Carolinas power outages caused by Florence will range from 1 million to 3 million customers. It's got more than 20,000 workers from the Carolinas and other states in place to restore power.

Duke reported few South Carolina outages Thursday afternoon.

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2 p.m.

The only route off North Carolina's Hatteras Island has closed as Hurricane Florence approaches.

Officials with the state Transportation Department said Thursday afternoon that N.C. Highway 12 was closed in both directions on Hatteras Island, part of the Outer Banks.

The closure means that people who chose to ride out the storm now officially have no way off the island. The two-lane highway is the only route to the mainland other than ferries.

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2 p.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Florence won't change much before its eye makes landfall.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, the Category 2 storm was centered about 110 miles (180 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 165 miles (270 kilometers) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its forward movement was 10 mph (17 kph) and top sustained winds stayed at 105 mph (165 kph).

Florence's outer bands of wind and rain began lashing North Carolina on Thursday. Its center will approach the coast later Thursday and make landfall around the North Carolina-South Carolina line.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say the storm will weaken after landfall but also linger, dumping heavy rains for days.

Florence's hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 195 miles (315 kilometers) from the eye.

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1:15 p.m.

An emergency management official in one of the most populated areas of coastal North Carolina says winds from the storm have already arrived and other impacts won't be far behind.

New Hanover County Emergency Management Director Steven Still said Thursday that residents who didn't evacuate should expect 60 mph (97 kph) winds by 7 p.m. that would eventually increase to 100 mph (161 kph) or more.

Still says residents "can expect to have that wind to the tune of 100 mph-plus stay on us for considerable period of time."

Still says landfall is expected around 8 a.m. Friday in the Wrightsville Beach area, and he said the area could see 20 to 30 inches (50 to 75 cms) of rain and beaches could get 9 to 10 to feet (about 3m) of storm surge.

Wrightsville Beach Mayor William Blair says evacuations are complete.

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1:15 p.m.

The head of Duke Energy Corp.'s North Carolina operations says it could take weeks to restore electricity if the company's prediction that 1 million to 3 million of its 4 million customers lose power due to Hurricane Florence.

Duke Energy executive David Fountain said Thursday that flooding from the slow-moving Florence must recede before crews can start sizing up needed repairs. He says based on the experience with Hurricane Matthew two years ago, it could be days before assessments start and the major electricity provider in the Carolinas can estimate when power can be restored.

Fountain says outages in the worst-hit areas could last for weeks.

He says repair crews will go where they can do the most good and won't prioritize Duke Energy customers over the electric cooperatives and municipal utilities that buy and resell power.

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12:15 p.m.

A flight-tracking service says about 1,200 U.S. airline flights scheduled for Thursday or Friday have been canceled, with some airports in the Carolinas essentially shut down.

FlightAware said in its midday report Thursday that the number of canceled flights is relatively small and could increase.

However, the hurricane's effect on the nationwide air-travel system will be less than feared if, as now forecast, Florence veers away from the American Airlines hub airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, and doesn't score a direct hit on Delta Air Lines' massive hub in Atlanta.

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11:50 a.m.

A private weather-forecasting firm is estimating that Hurricane Florence will cause $50 billion to $60 billion in economic damages.

Accuweather founder and President Joel Myers said in a news release Thursday that much of that will stem from flooding, with coastal damage as the second-biggest factors. Winds come in third.

Florence's winds had dropped from a peak of 140 mph (225 kph) to 105 mph (165 kph) by midmorning Thursday, reducing the hurricane from a Category 4 to a Category 2. But forecasters warned that the storm is growing in size and moving slowly, which will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours.

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11:50 a.m.

One of South Carolina's major power companies is warning customers to be wary of fallen power lines and other hazards that could come after Hurricane Florence's arrival.

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. CEO Keller Kissam gave updates to reporters Thursday in a news conference at the company's headquarters in Cayce (KAY-cee).

Kissam says the storm, which is expected to bring torrential rains and sustained winds, could mean that it takes linemen longer to repair any power problems, in part due to concerns for their own safety.

Kissam says SCE&G has been in touch with other power companies in the Southeast that are willing to help with any problems after the storm. Kissam says crews are already in South Carolina from other states, including Mississippi.

SCE&G has more than 700,000 power customers in South Carolina.

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11:50 a.m.

The Virginia National Guard says 1,200 personnel are staged and ready to respond as Hurricane Florence approaches.

Guard officials said in a statement Thursday that soldiers, airmen and members of the Virginia Defense Force are staged around the state to support local and state emergency management officials. Potential missions include high water transportation, debris reduction, commodity distribution, shelter management assistance and search and rescue.

Gov. Ralph Northam authorized up to 6,000 personnel for response operations and officials say they have been alerted and are on standby. Additional personnel will be on duty in Richmond and Fort Pickett to provide mission command, logistics, administrative and public information support.

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11:30 a.m.

All commercial flights have been canceled at the Myrtle Beach International Airport as Hurricane Florence approaches the South Carolina coast.

Airport spokesman Kirk Lovell said in an email that one flight left early Thursday morning and all other flights have been canceled for Thursday and Friday.

He said 84 flights with 12,248 seats were on the schedule for Thursday, with 80 flights with 11,416 seats scheduled for Friday.

Lovell said the airlines will decide when to resume service after Florence makes landfall. Myrtle Beach is served by 10 airlines.

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11:30 a.m.

Hurricane Florence is still the most dangerous of the four tropical storms in the Atlantic.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say Tropical Storm Isaac was speeding into the eastern Caribbean Sea on Thursday after passing between Dominica and Martinique. The poorly organized storm with 45 mph (75 kph) winds was not expected to strengthen.

Helene weakened to a tropical storm while moving north over the open Atlantic. Also over open waters, Subtropical Storm Joyce could transition into a tropical storm over the next couple days.

Forecasters also were watching a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico.

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11:30 a.m.

Gov. Roy Cooper is urging North Carolina residents not to ease up in their preparations for Hurricane Florence, despite southward changes in the storm's forecast and a decrease in its top sustained wind speeds.

Cooper said at a news conference Thursday morning that he's concerned because he's heard some people say North Carolina is "getting a break."

The governor says the state "cannot underestimate this storm." Forecasters are warning that Florence will bring surging ocean water, high winds and days of torrential rain.

Cooper says there are currently about 108 shelters open in North Carolina with more than 7,000 people in them. He says emergency management officials plan to open even more.

Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry says an estimated 750 people have packed a megashelter set up at a coliseum in Winston-Salem. Sprayberry says a team is conducting surveys to find other locations for potential megashelters.

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11 a.m.

Hurricane Florence is slowing down as its outer bands of wind and rain lash North Carolina's barrier islands.

As of 11 a.m., the Category 2 storm was centered about 145 miles (230 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 195 miles (315 kilometers) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its forward movement slowed to 10 mph (17 kph) and top sustained winds dropped slightly to 105 mph (165 kph).

Still, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says there is nothing "minor" about this hurricane. Water causes the most deaths during tropical storms and hurricanes, and Florence is expected to cause dangerous flooding.

Graham said areas that repeatedly get hit even with weaker winds at Florence's edges could see heavy rainfall for hours. Storm surge flooding also could push 2 miles (3 kilometers) or more inland if Florence lingers for days along the coast.

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10:45 a.m.

Duke Energy Corp. is shutting down a coastal North Carolina nuclear power plant ahead of Hurricane Florence.

The electricity provider says it began powering down one reactor early Thursday and would start shutting the second reactor later in the day. Florence was projected to reach land Friday near the plant located about five miles from the Atlantic Ocean near Southport.

The Brunswick plant's two reactors share the same design as those in Fukushima, Japan, that exploded and leaked radiation following a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Federal regulators later required all U.S. nuclear plants be reinforced against earthquakes and flooding.

Duke Energy did not provide information about specific changes made at Brunswick, other than to say emergency generators and pumps will remove stormwater if the plant floods.

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10:10 a.m.

The long big slosh has begun.

Meteorologists say the leading edge of Florence has arrived in North Carolina, with tropical storm-force winds carrying drenching bands of rainfall onto some beach communities.

Florence will likely bring days of rain totaling three feet or more, and a storm surge of ocean water that rises to more than 12 feet near the center of the storm.

Gov. Roy Cooper says he knows many people are watching the changing storm predictions and categories, and he's concerned because some are even saying that "North Carolina is getting a break." It's not.

"Please hear my message," he says. "We cannot underestimate this storm."

Cooper is saying: "Don't relax; don't get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill."

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9:50 a.m.

Federal emergency officials at a Washington briefing are urging people to treat Hurricane Florence seriously even though its top sustained winds are down to 110 mph (177 kph), which makes it a Category 2 storm.

They say it remains very large and very dangerous, bringing more than 30 inches of rain to the coast and heavy winds that will impact a giant swath of land.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long says storm surge warnings have not changed despite the weakening intensity on the wind scale.

He urged people in the coastal Carolinas and living near inland rivers to evacuate now.

"Please heed the warnings," Brock says: "Your time is running out."

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9:40 a.m.

The police chief of a barrier island in the bull's-eye of Hurricane Florence is warning any stragglers who refused to evacuate that they are making a dangerous choice.

At a news conference just across the bridge in Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said a handful of residents on the island have refused evacuation orders. He's telling them they "better go ahead and give me your next of kin" information, because no one will rescue them at the height of the storm.

The police chief says he's not going to put his people in harm's way, especially for people they've already told to evacuate. The latest forecast shows the eye of Florence could pass directly over the barrier island, pushing a huge surge of ocean water.

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9 a.m.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center warn that Florence remains deadly because of its size and slow forward speed, even if its top sustained winds have dropped it to Category 2 status as a hurricane.

Director Ken Graham says there is nothing "minor" about this hurricane. Water causes the most deaths during tropical storms and hurricanes, and Florence expected to cause dangerous flooding.

Graham said areas that repeatedly get hit even with weaker winds at Florence's edges could see heavy rainfall for hours. Storm surge flooding also could push 2 miles or more inland if Florence lingers for days along the coast.

Tornadoes also remain a threat, particularly in areas northeast of the hurricane's eye.

Senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart warns that Florence being a slow hurricane could mean three to four hours of battering, beach-eroding winds for some areas.

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8 a.m.

The outer bands of wind and rain from Hurricane Florence are moving onshore along North Carolina's barrier islands as the massive storm bears down on the Southeastern coastline.

As of 8 a.m., the Category 2 storm was centered about 170 miles (275 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 220 miles (355 kilometers) east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its forward movement slowed to 12 mph (19 kph) and top sustained winds stayed at 110 mph (175 kph).

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami don't expect it to strengthen from a Category 2 hurricane before it moves ashore, but they say the real problem will be water as Florence lingers along the coast through Saturday.

Florence's hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 195 miles (315 kilometers) from the eye.

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7:30 a.m.

The mayor of Myrtle Beach says her city has done as much as it can to prepare for Hurricane Florence.

Brenda Bethune told NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning that public safety crews have been checking to make sure businesses are secure, and looking for anything that could become a projectile as the winds come ashore.

But the mayor says she knows many people are ignoring evacuation orders. She hopes they'll stay inside once the winds, rain and floods arrive.

She says people often want to get outside and take pictures. Bad idea, she says because emergency crews won't be able to reach them in the storm.

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7:15 a.m.

The Coast Guard says port operations in Charleston, South Carolina, have been stopped as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast.

The Coast Guard said in a news release that the decision to stop port operations at 8 p.m. Wednesday comes because gale force winds of up to 54 mph (87 kph) were possible within 24 hours.

The Coast Guard said ocean-going vessels were told to prepare to leave. Those heading to Charleston were told to find another destination.

The Coast Guard warned pleasure boaters to find safe harbors and noted that drawbridges might not operate once winds reach 25 mph (40 kph).

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5 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says the outer rain bands of Hurricane Florence are approaching the coast of North Carolina.

Early Thursday the Category 2 was about 205 miles (325 kilometers) east southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 250 miles (405 kilometers) east southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The gradually slowing but still life-threatening storm is moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph). Little change in strength is expected before the center reaches the coast. Weakening is expected after the center moves inland.

The Miami-based center says the center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and South Carolina later today. It then will move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina in the hurricane warning area later Thursday and Friday.

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2 a.m.

Monster storm Hurricane Florence is barreling closer to the coast of the Carolinas.

Forecasters say wind speeds have dropped from a high of 140 mph (225 kph) to 110 mph (175 kph), reducing it to a Category 2 storm. But authorities warn Florence has an enormous wind field as it zeroes in on the Southeast U.S. coast, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land and making Florence extremely dangerous.

Early Thursday Florence was about 235 miles (378 kilometers) east southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and about 280 miles (450 kilometers) east southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The storm is moving northwest at 17 mph (27 kph).

The National Hurricane Center's says it expects Florence will blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then slog westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.

11:00 p.m.

Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm but it is still considered an extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm.

As of 11 p.m., the storm was centered 280 miles (455 kilometers) east southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and was moving northwest at 17 mph (28 kph). Its maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly to 110 mph (175 kph).

But the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday evening that the storm is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge and rainfall to the Carolinas as it approaches the coast Thursday and Friday.

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8:40 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence has canceled his planned trip to Georgia on Thursday because of the updated track of Hurricane Florence.

The vice president's office says Pence will remain in Washington to monitor the federal response to the hurricane.

Georgia's governor declared a state of emergency after new storm forecasts showed a more southerly threat to residents.

Pence had been scheduled to hold a campaign event for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp and stop by an American Red Cross disaster field supply center in Atlanta and address employees at the Delta TechOps facility.

President Donald Trump has canceled campaign events in Missouri and Mississippi this week because of the impending hurricane.

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8:40 p.m.

A South Carolina city in the projected path of Hurricane Florence has put a curfew into place for residents who remain.

The Myrtle Beach Chamber announced on Twitter Wednesday that the city had declared a curfew from 10 p.m. Wednesday through 6 a.m. Thursday. Officials say other coastal communities including Surfside Beach have implemented similar curfews.

Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the evacuation of much of South Carolina's coast as the state waits for the storm projected to come ashore in the Carolinas later this week.

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8 p.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Florence has slightly weakened but remains a potentially catastrophic Category 3 storm as it continues toward North and South Carolina.

The National Hurricane Center said Wednesday evening that the storm is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge and rainfall to the Carolinas as it approaches the coast Thursday and Friday.

As of 8 p.m., the storm was centered 335 miles (540 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and was moving northwest at 16 mph (26 kph). Its maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly to 115 mph (185 kph).

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8 p.m.

President Donald Trump spent Wednesday monitoring federal preparations for Hurricane Florence's expected landfall in the Southeast.

The White House says Trump spoke with Sens. Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina and Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina to convey that the full support of the federal government stands ready to assist their states.

Earlier Wednesday Trump warned people in the path of the storm to heed the advice of state and local officials. He says: "protection of life is the absolute highest priority."

Trump is also boasting about the state of federal preparedness. He says: "They're all ready and we're getting tremendous accolades from politicians and the people."

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8 p.m.

Many who live in Virginia Beach began to take major storms more seriously after the remnants of Hurricane Matthew deluged the region in 2016. Homes that never flooded before were inundated.

Thirty-three-year-old Brady Osborne has not forgotten the 16 inches of rain that poured into his garage and the flooding the hurt home values in his neighborhood. He said he had used a canoe to reach dry land to pick up groceries.

He shoveled sand into sandbags on Wednesday to fortify his home.

He says "Matthew taught us."

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8 p.m.

The forecast for Hurricane Florence's wrath was only improving Wednesday for coastal Virginia, which is more than 200 miles north of where the storm is expected to strike. But many who live in this low-lying and flood-prone region weren't taking any chances.

Je'Nein Ferrell is a 44-year-old adjunct professor at Norfolk State University. She shoveled sand into sandbags Wednesday with images of Houston following Hurricane Harvey in her head.

Ferrell was among throngs of people who took the city of Virginia Beach up on its offer of free sand for sandbagging. More than 100 people had cycled through in two hours, circling around sand piles as they were dumped from a truck.

Ferrell planned to secure some areas around her mother's Virginia Beach town home. She said she would then consider whether she would leave Norfolk, where she lives.

She added that the weather has become increasingly unpredictable with climate change.

She says, "We can't base our present on our past."

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7:10 p.m.

South Carolina is planning to end the reversal of some interstate lanes that were switched to help move people away from the state's coast as Hurricane Florence approaches.

Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith told reporters that, starting Thursday at 6 p.m., officers will close Interstate 26 lanes that had been switched from eastbound to westbound to move people away from the Charleston area toward the center of the state.

Gov. Henry McMaster on Tuesday ordered much of the state's coast evacuated and reversed eastbound lanes to help people leave. Smith says officers will begin closing down the reversed lanes and gradually switch traffic back to its regular patterns.

Many officers are on the road during lane reversals, manning each exit and ensuring drivers don't drive around barricades. The change allows agencies like Smith's to pull back their officers when tropical storm-force winds are expected to arrive in the state.

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7:10 p.m.

West Virginia agencies are mobilizing to respond to problems arising from Hurricane Florence.

The governor's office says in a news release the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management activated its emergency operations center Wednesday.

The statement says 50 National Guard members are prepared to assist in locations across the state. Nearly 70 tractor-trailer loads of supplies have arrived at the Guard's 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg.

In June 2016, a series of thunderstorms pelted a wide swath of West Virginia. Nine inches of rain fell in 36 hours in some areas, leaving 23 dead statewide and destroying thousands of homes, businesses and infrastructure.

The National Weather Service forecast says up to 4 inches of rain is possible in parts of the state through next week.

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6:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump is urging those living in the path of Hurricane Florence to comply with all evacuation orders and emergency instructions.

Speaking Wednesday at the White House, Trump said "protection of life is the absolute highest priority."

He warned that Florence could be "one of the biggest ever to hit the East Coast."

The storm is still a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 120 mph (195 kph) as it approaches the North and South Carolina coasts.

Trump says his administration has been in "close contact" with the state and local governments soon to be impacted by the massive storm.

The National Weather Service is predicting that the hurricane will blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon along the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward, with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.

(This item has been edited to clarify that forecasters are saying that the storm could reach land as early as Friday afternoon).

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6:15 p.m.

Virginia officials are urging residents under a mandatory evacuation order not to return home, despite forecast changes showing Hurricane Florence's path largely missing the state.

Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that the storm's path is still unpredictable and residents who were ordered to evacuate beginning Tuesday should continue to stay away. The evacuation order applies to about 245,000 people in low-lying coastal areas.

Northam said emergency management officials are still concerned about storm surges, high winds and potential flooding.

Officials said 59 local shelters and two state-managed shelters are either open or about to open across Virginia.

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6:15 p.m.

A spokeswoman for Love's Travel Stops says demand for gasoline has doubled at many of the company's truck-stop locations in the path of Hurricane Florence.

At least 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia have been warned to evacuate, and others are hunkering down. Tracking service GasBuddy says that has led to a run on gas stations that left about 5 percent of all service stations in North Carolina out of gasoline by Wednesday.

Love's spokeswoman Kyla Turner says the company brought in drivers from other areas and increased deliveries to keep its locations stocked. She says it had not run out at any of its 27 locations in Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia.

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6:15 p.m.

North Carolina's top agriculture leader says farmers have made progress harvesting before Hurricane Florence arrives, thanks in part to loosened transportation rules before the storm. But he says several crops are still in the field and could be threatened by high winds and flooding.

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said Wednesday at a news conference that more than half of the state's tobacco crop has been harvested, along with three-quarters of the corn in eastern North Carolina fields. But he says the sweet potato and peanut harvests are just getting started and all of the cotton crop is still in the field. North Carolina is the nation's leading sweet potato producer.

Troxler says livestock is being moved to higher ground or sent to market earlier.

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6 p.m.

Officials in the Carolinas are closing down ports as Hurricane Florence approaches their coastlines.

North Carolina officials said Wednesday that they were closing the Ports of Wilmington and Morehead City to commercial truck traffic on Wednesday. Both facilities will be closed to traffic of any kind starting Thursday.

South Carolina State Ports Authority spokeswoman Erin Dhand says the Port of Charleston is closing to container traffic Thursday and may re-open on Sunday, depending on the storm's track and overall conditions.

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6 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says at least 50 shelters are open across the state as up to 1 million residents have been asked to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Florence.

Cooper spoke at a news conference with emergency management officials Wednesday. He announced that officials were opening a large shelter at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem at 6 p.m. Wednesday with a capacity of at least 1,000.

The governor issued an evacuation order for the state's barrier islands, and local officials have issued some evacuation orders inland as well. Altogether, Cooper says between 750,000 to 1 million residents have been asked to leave their homes.

He warned that the coast will "feel the wrath" of Florence starting Thursday morning but said all parts of North Carolina will see some impact. He's urging people not to wait to evacuate or get prepared.

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6 p.m.

A law firm is suing three coastal Virginia sheriffs over the decision not to evacuate their local jails as Hurricane Florence approaches.

Nexus Derechos Humanos Attorneys filed the lawsuit Wednesday against Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron, Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O'Sullivan and Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore.

The lawsuit says the sheriffs are refusing to evacuate nearly 2,500 inmates housed in their local jails, which are located in low-lying areas for which the state's governor has issued an evacuation order. It says the inmates are being placed in "dire straits."

Col. Marvin Waters, undersheriff of the Portsmouth office, said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit because the department hadn't been notified of it. But he said the jail is well equipped to withstand the storm, with food reserves, generators and medical care on site.

A spokesman for the Norfolk office declined comment, and a spokesman for the Chesapeake office couldn't immediately be reached.

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5:40 p.m.

Yet another storm has formed in the Atlantic.

The National Hurricane Center said Wednesday that Subtropical Storm Joyce has formed in the north Atlantic, but is not currently a threat to land.

Joyce is centered about 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) southwest of the Azores and is moving southwest at 6 mph (9 kph).

The storm has maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph) with winds of 40 mph (65 kph) extending outward up to 115 miles (185 kms) from the center.

A true tropical storm draws heat energy from the ocean and has a warm core, with its highest winds around the center. A subtropical storm shares some characteristics but has a cooler core, draws energy from the atmosphere and has less-concentrated winds.

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4:30 p.m.

The National Weather Service says more than 10 million residents in three states are under a storm watch or warning because of Hurricane Florence. There are 5.25 million people under hurricane warnings and watches and another 4.89 million under tropical storm watches and warnings.

Hurricane Warnings are in effect from the South Santee River in South Carolina to Duck, North Carolina. A hurricane watch stretches from Edisto Beach, South Carolina to the South Santee River.

A tropical storm warning is in effect from Duck, North Carolina, to the North Carolina/Virginia border, with a watch in effect from there to the Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.

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4:20 p.m.

Duke Energy says damage from Hurricane Florence could cut off electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and the outages could last for weeks.

The country's No. 2 power company said Wednesday that it's anticipating 1 million to 3 million homes and businesses could lose power for lengthy periods, depending on the storm's track.

Duke Energy North Carolina President David Fountain said Florence is so massive and its potential for damage so extensive that people could be without power for a very long time. Fountain says most storms are an inconvenience, "but Hurricane Florence will be a life-changing event for many people here in the Carolinas."

The company says it's already is shifting thousands of power workers from its Midwest and Florida regions and getting added workers from as far away as Texas.

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4:20 p.m.

North Carolina election officials already delayed in assembling fall ballots due to litigation now are bracing for any additional delays spurred by Hurricane Florence.

State elections Executive Director Kim Strach has urged county election boards to prepare for possible flooding by ensuring all voting equipment and files are protected.

She also reminded them that printed ballots need to go out to military and absentee voters by Sept. 22. Ballots took longer to finalize this year because of legal battles over ballot wording.

Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina in October 2016, unleashing flooding that damaged both early-voting and Election Day polling places. A court delayed voter-registration deadlines to give more time to people displaced by the storm.

North Carolina voters will cast ballots this fall for Congress, the legislature, judgeships and six constitutional referendums.

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4:20 p.m.

About two dozen Kentucky firefighters are heading to North Carolina to help rescue people in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

Swift-water search-and-rescue teams from Louisville and Jefferson County left Frankfort shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday. They will stay in Raleigh, North Carolina, while Hurricane Florence makes landfall. After that, they will be deployed to rescue people from anticipated flooding.

Kentucky Emergency Management Director Mike Dossett says the state is intentionally deploying firefighters from western Kentucky counties. That's because the remnants of Hurricane Florence are expected to dump up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain in eastern Kentucky next week, which will likely cause flash flooding. Dossett said the state will be prepared if the storm comes to Kentucky.

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3:30 p.m.

An official from South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources says officials are concerned about the potential for widespread flooding after Hurricane Florence's arrival, particularly in the northeastern part of the state.

The Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin, which starts near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and flows across the state, culminates in South Carolina's Winyah Bay, a coastal estuary near Georgetown.

Alvin Taylor said Wednesday that the area of concern includes the town of Nichols, a small community that experienced devastating flooding following Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

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3:30 p.m.

Two major home-supply chains have activated emergency response centers this week to track Hurricane Florence and get supplies to stores before and after the storm.

A Home Depot spokeswoman says the company sent about 750 trucks to areas affected by the hurricane, and a Lowe's spokeswoman said it sent more than 1,000. The supplies include generators, trash bags and bottled water.

The companies say they plan to open their stores as soon as possible after the storm, and both are posting updates on store closures on their sites.

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3:30 p.m.

Home hardware stores are bursting with business as residents in Southern states that could be affected by Hurricane Florence are trying to protect their property.

Ace Hardware managers Tom Roberts and Harold Cook said Wednesday that employees were wrapping up five of the busiest days they have ever seen in their store in the tiny village of Calabash, North Carolina.

Roberts says the store sold hundreds of gas cans and ran out of generators, but still had bottled water, sand bags and other items.

But he says now it's time for the employees themselves to get their own homes ready.

They also need to rest up, Roberts says, because the stores are "going to be just as busy with cleanup once this thing is gone."

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3:30 p.m.

North Carolina builders will let tower cranes on construction sites rotate freely in the wind when Hurricane Florence arrives, a move designed to prevent them from being toppled or damaged by heavy wind.

Crews started preparing cranes on office building construction sites in Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham earlier this week. Before hurricane-force winds arrive, they'll disengage the brakes that normally hold a crane's boom in place, a practice called "weathervaning."

North Carolina-based Heede Construction president Dennis Kenna says a 300-foot (90-meter) tall crane can withstand wind speeds of more than 100 mph (160 kph). Shorter cranes can withstand much higher speeds. Most of Heede's 30 cranes in North Carolina are less than 300 feet tall.

Two cranes collapsed in Miami last year when strong winds from Hurricane Irma struck the city. It's unclear how fast the winds that brought down the cranes were, but gusts over 90 mph (145 kph) were reported at Miami International Airport.

Florence is expected to bring tropical storm-force winds to North Carolina's inland cities later this week.

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3 p.m.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster says more than 300,000 people have already evacuated the state's coasts ahead of Hurricane Florence.

McMaster told reporters Wednesday that the storm could bring more rain to the state than 1989's devastating Hurricane Hugo.

McMaster has ordered much of the state's coastline evacuated, reversing some lanes of a major interstate to direct all traffic inland.

Forecasters warned as much as 15 inches (38 centimeters) could fall in some portions of the state through at least Monday.

The head of the state's National Guard also says the federal government has positioned aid ships off South Carolina's coast and they'll be ready to assist after the storm moves through.

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3 p.m.

Two of the nation's largest motor speedways have opened their vast campgrounds to Southerners escaping Hurricane Florence, part of a patchwork of shelters across the region serving as a last refuge for storm evacuees.

But gas shortages and jammed freeways loomed for evacuees seeking safety in far-away shelters, campgrounds and hotels. In North Carolina, 1 in 10 gas stations in Wilmington and Raleigh-Durham had no gas by midday Wednesday.

At Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, personal belongings were spread across an open field where the first few evacuees arrived Wednesday.

Melody Rawson left her first-floor apartment in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, arriving at the Georgia speedway with two dogs and a cockatoo, and a couple of coolers holding some sandwich meat.

Bristol Motor Speedway, near the Tennessee-Virginia line, also opened its campgrounds to evacuees.

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2:40 p.m.

Portions of the Georgia coast face a growing threat of strong winds as Hurricane Florence nears the Southeast coast, but officials there aren't calling for evacuations.

Dennis Jones is director of the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency that includes Savannah. Jones told a news conference Wednesday there's a "moderate" chance sustained tropical storm winds could reach the area as soon as Thursday evening. He said some storm impacts could last through the weekend.

The National Hurricane Center predicts the Category 3 hurricane will strike the Carolinas later this week. But forecasters say there's a chance the storm could turn to the southwest.

Jones said there's currently no need for evacuations in the Savannah area, but that could change if the forecast worsens. He said there's a low risk of flooding and storm surge risks are "very low."

(This item has been edited to correct the storm strength to category 3, not category 4).

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2:25 p.m.

Hurricane Florence has gotten a little bit weaker but it remains a very large and dangerous storm.

At 2 p.m., the storm was centered 435 miles (700 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving at 16 mph (26 kph).

It's a potentially catastrophic Category 3 storm with 125 mph (205 kph) maximum sustained winds.

Some fluctuations in strength are expected through Thursday morning. Florence will weaken once it stops drawing energy from warm ocean waters, but it's still expected to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday as an extremely dangerous major hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center says a buoy about 100 miles northeast of Florence's eye has clocked hurricane-force wind gusts and sustained winds of 53 mph (85 kph).

Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.

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2:15 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence plans to thank American Red Cross employees and volunteers in Atlanta as they prepare for Hurricane Florence.

Pence's office said in a news release Wednesday that Pence would visit the Delta Air Lines TechOps facility in Atlanta on Thursday, and would later stop by the American Red Cross Disaster Field Supply Center to thank the staff and volunteers.

The TechOps facility provides aviation maintenance to Delta and services its fleet.

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2 p.m.

As motorists try to get away from the path of Hurricane Florence they are learning that some service stations are running out of gasoline.

Patrick DeHaan is an analyst for GasBuddy, a service that tracks gasoline prices and outages.

DeHaan says there is plenty of gasoline in the region, but getting it from distribution terminals to stations is a challenge.

He says the situation is exacerbated because "everyone wants it at the same time."

By midday Wednesday, 5 percent of stations in North Carolina were out, including 10 percent of those in Wilmington and Raleigh-Durham. In South Carolina, 2 percent of stations had run out and in Virginia, 1 percent.

DeHaan says truck stops and major chains with bigger supply systems are more likely to have gas than small stations.

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2 p.m.

Some airports in the Carolinas are shutting down as Hurricane Florence approaches, and American Airlines says it's canceling 565 flights through the weekend.

American said Wednesday that it has stopped flying at Greenville, Jacksonville and New Bern, North Carolina, and would shut down Wednesday night in Wilmington and Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Florence, South Carolina.

American plans to stop flights in Columbia, South Carolina, and Hampton-Newport News, Virginia, on Thursday evening.

Most of the closures will run through Sunday, with a few lifting after Saturday.

American says it's seeing no impact at its big hub in Charlotte, North Carolina, and expects only scattered cancellations through Saturday at Raleigh-Durham.

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2 p.m.

Forecasters say the U.S. coast won't see waves generated by Hurricane Florence that are anywhere near as high as the 83-foot (25-meter) giant that was possibly picked up on a satellite.

Chris Landsea is chief of tropical analysis and the forecast branch at the National Hurricane Center. He says that when waves and the hurricane move in a straight and similar line, it's possible to get a wave as big as the image conveyed by the satellite Wednesday.

Storms this strong usually generate waves of 40 feet to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters).

But Landsea say the waves won't be anywhere in the same ballpark when they reach shore because they get smaller as the water gets shallower.

He also says that there is a chance that radar misinterpreted rain as an 83-foot wave.

Florence is such a huge storm that 12-foot (4-meter) seas extend for 345 miles (555 miles) from the storm's eye.

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1:15 p.m.

Mississippi is sending National Guard members and search-and-rescue workers to areas affected by Hurricane Florence.

Two swift-water rescue teams including local firefighters from 22 communities have gone to Virginia to help with rescue operations in case of flooding.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Greg Michel says Virginia is paying for the deployments under an interstate emergency-assistance compact. The Mississippi Office for Homeland Security says teams arrived Wednesday in the Virginia towns of Dublin and Pulaski.

Soldiers based in Meridian, Mississippi, will provide airlift support for relief after the storm using two CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Members of the Mississippi Air National Guard are deploying to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to help with relief planning and coordination.

More than 60 people are participating in the deployments.

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1:15 p.m.

A program that provides health care benefits to military families and retirees is making it easier to get care during evacuations related to Hurricane Florence.

The Defense Health Agency announced in a new release on Wednesday that it is waiving referral requirements for TRICARE beneficiaries under mandatory evacuation orders in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

TRICARE says this means beneficiaries from 40 counties in those states may see a provider in any location without a referral from their primary care provider.

The waiver is in effect until Sept. 21. TRICARE says it has about 1.5 million beneficiaries in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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12:55 p.m.

Georgia's governor has declared a state of emergency for all 159 counties as forecasters now say Hurricane Florence could take a southwest turn.

In a news release Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal says the state "is mobilizing all available resources to ensure public safety ahead of Hurricane Florence."

Deal's declaration Wednesday covers comes as the National Weather Service's storm forecast shows a chance that Florence's track might turn toward the southwest as it approaches the Carolinas later this week.

No storm watches or warnings are in effect for Georgia. But forecasters say there's an increased chance for tropical storm winds to reach Savannah.

Deal's emergency declaration cited potential "changes in the storm's trajectory" as well as an influx of evacuees coming to Georgia from the Carolinas. The order eases regulations on trucks hauling gasoline and relief supplies into Georgia.

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12:40 p.m.

Airlines are starting to cancel more flights as Hurricane Florence approaches the Southeast coast.

At midday Wednesday, tracking service FlightAware said more than 400 U.S. flights scheduled for Thursday had been canceled, most of them in the Southeast.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, four-fifths of Thursday's departures have been scrapped. Anywhere from about one-third to more than half of departures have been canceled in Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina, and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

The numbers are sure to rise as airlines begin cutting flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Airlines typically wait until about 24 hours before takeoff before canceling a flight.

Delta Air Lines says it's adding about 1,000 seats on flights to and from the Southeast for people trying to flee the storm.

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12:40 p.m.

Virginia has opened two state-managed shelters to assist people evacuating ahead of Hurricane Florence.

The shelters at Christopher Newport University in Newport News and at The College of William & Mary Williamsburg opened Wednesday morning.

Gov. Ralph Northam's office said in a statement that they are open to Virginians or residents of other states who have nowhere else to go. No identification or proof of residency is needed to seek shelter.

The facilities will provide only basic services, so anyone reporting to one is encouraged to bring supplies including a personal emergency kit, medications and medical equipment.

The statement says 24 localities across the state are opening local shelters as well. Cities and counties have been distributing information about those sites through their websites and social media pages.

Virginia is under a state of emergency as Florence approaches, and Northam has issued a mandatory evacuation order for around 245,000 people in the state's lowest-lying coastal areas.

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12:40 p.m.

Residents of South Carolina who thought they were going to be safe from Hurricane Florence are now rushing to prepare after a slight change in the forecast.

Current forecast models have the hurricane shifting south. Previously, North Carolina was forecast to be more at risk.

Chris Pennington was boarding up the windows of his Myrtle Beach house late Wednesday morning after noticing that the latest forecast has Florence coming inland nearly over his home.

Pennington says he is still leaning toward staying put, but that he'll keep a really close eye on the weather and leave by Thursday afternoon if necessary.

He says one reason for staying is that his wife would be available to help if needed at the local animal hospital where she works.

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12:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump is urging those in the path of Hurricane Florence to act now to "get out of its way."

Trump is telling residents, "Don't play games with it. It's a big one."

The president made his comments in a videotaped message from the Rose Garden that he tweeted out on Wednesday morning.

Trump says the federal government and first responders stand ready to assist, but even so, "bad things can happen when you're talking about a storm this size."

Trump is telling people in the Carolinas and Virginia: "it's heading your way. ... Be ready and God be with you."

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12:15 a.m.

The steady shift South that forecasters are expecting for Hurricane Florence has areas once thought to be in the clear worried. In Beaufort County, South Carolina, Emergency Management Division Commander Neil Baxley told residents Wednesday that they need to prepare for the worst - just in case.

Baxley says a direct hit from Florence could bring worse flooding than the state's great flood of 2015 after 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain fell on parts of the county. The flooding closed several bridges and isolated big parts of the marshy, low lying county.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced evacuations of Beaufort County on Monday, but then rescinded them the next day when forecasts appeared to be sending the storm into North Carolina.

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12:15 a.m.

Forecasters say conditions are still good for already powerful Hurricane Florence to strengthen a little as it moves over very warm waters.

Senior National Hurricane Center specialist Stacy Stewart says as the Category 4 Florence slows down and moves into shallower waters close to shore, the cooler sea temperatures and increasing contact with land will help reduce its strength.

But in a forecast discussion on the center's website Wednesday, Stewart stressed the weaker winds will not diminish hazards from the storm.

Stewart says the impacts of the storm will cover a wide area "regardless of exactly where the center of Florence moves."

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11:20 a.m.

Federal regulators are reviewing preparations for nuclear plants in the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday said it's sending additional inspectors to plants in North and South Carolina and is activating its regional incident response center in Atlanta, to provide around-the-clock staff support during the storm.

The NRC says Duke Energy's Brunswick nuclear plant south of Wilmington, North Carolina, could face hurricane-force winds, major storm surges and heavy rain.

Duke says it has a procedure to begin shutting down plants at least two hours before the arrival of hurricane-force winds. Duke also operates three nuclear plants in South Carolina, though none are on the coast.

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11:20 a.m.

U.S. Coast Guard crews in Charleston, South Carolina, are making final preparations ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence.

Capt. John Reed says the Coast Guard is asking people to heed evacuation orders and leave coastal areas. The Coast Guard says mariners shouldn't go out to sea in recreational boats and should use 911 and not social media to report life-threatening distress.

Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered people in coastal areas including Charleston to evacuate the area ahead of the Category 4 storm. Reed says the Coast Guard will work with local officials as soon as it's safe to assess waterways and help anyone in distress.

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11:20 a.m.

The mayor of a town outside Charleston, South Carolina, is telling people to "take control of your destiny" and leave town now before Hurricane Florence arrives.

Will Haynie is mayor of the Town of Mount Pleasant, just to the east of Charleston, South Carolina. He urged residents on Wednesday to get out of the path of the massive and powerful Category 4 storm, the likes of which he said the area hasn't seen since 1989's Hugo.

Haynie says local buses in the Charleston area will pick residents up and get them to shelters until 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Haynie says residents "can take control of your destiny by getting of the way of this dangerous storm."

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11:20 a.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is urging residents in evacuation zones to move to safety, saying the effects of Hurricane Florence are "only hours away."

Cooper spoke at a news conference Wednesday morning with other emergency management officials. The governor said there's still time for coastal residents to evacuate if their home is at risk and time for others to finish preparing for the storm.

Cooper says "disaster is at the doorstep, and it's coming in."

The governor added that "a lot of people that might normally stay through a hurricane have recognized that this one is different."

Shelters began opening Tuesday and more will open Wednesday.

Cooper says state flood plain experts have been modeling the storm's projected impacts and found that from the storm surge alone, tens of thousands of structures are expected to be flooded.

The governor also announced he had activated more National Guard soldiers. Emergency management officials said 3,000 would be on active duty by Wednesday evening, with more on standby.

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11:20 a.m.

The mayor of a South Carolina city in the projected path of Hurricane Florence says residents need to leave the area as soon as possible.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune told CNN on Wednesday that seeing the storm's newly projected path toward her city was like "waking up to a sucker punch."

To the city's roughly 32,000 residents, Bethune says Myrtle Beach "is not a place where you want to be" when the storm arrives.

Myrtle Beach is one of the state's tourism centers. It is among coastal areas under mandatory evacuation orders by Gov. Henry McMaster. Bethune says she's particularly worried about projected storm surge from the storm, which has slowed down and could linger along South Carolina's coast, dumping inches (centimeters) of rain.

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11:20 a.m.

Dozens of airmen are assembling at a New York Air National Guard base on Long Island to prepare for deployment to Southern states in the path of Hurricane Florence.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that 50 members of the 106th Rescue Wing based at Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach are preparing to travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. He says elements of the unit will depart as early as Wednesday afternoon to offer assistance along coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

The New York Army National Guard is ready to deploy four helicopters to help storm response efforts. The aircraft are based at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Rochester International Airport.

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11:05 a.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Florence is generating enormous waves, as high as 83 feet (25 meters) as it makes its way toward the East Coast.

The National Hurricane Center says the waves were measured by satellite.

The huge waves are being produced because currents are trapped by very strong winds moving in the same direction the storm's motion. The center's Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch is tweeting about the phenomenon.

The center of the storm is about 485 miles (785 kilometers) out to sea, with tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 175

miles (280 kilometers).

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11 a.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Florence is expected to steadily slow down as it makes its way toward the East Coast.

At 11 a.m., the storm was centered 485 miles (785 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving at 15 mph (24 kph).

It's a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm with 130 mph (215 kph) maximum sustained winds.

Some strengthening is forecast through Wednesday night, drawing energy from the warm water. Its winds could approach Category 5 strength, which means winds of 157 mph (253 kph) or higher.

Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Isaac was expected to pass south of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba. Hurricane Helene was expected to weaken over the eastern Atlantic. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.

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10:45 a.m.

Forecasters said Wednesday that Florence's wind field is expanding, making it a large, stable hurricane with a clearly defined eye at its center.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warns that a slight shift in Florence's forecast track does not mean that some communities north of the storm are now in the clear.

The "cone of error" in the forecast track only predicts where the storm's center might go, and even on its edges, winds can push a powerful storm surge into shore dozens of miles from where Florence's eyewall strikes land.

As Graham says, "just because you have a landfall to your south doesn't mean you're out of the woods, because the winds are huge around this system."

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10:30 a.m.

The Homeland Security Department is pushing back against a Democratic U.S. senator's claim that the Trump administration transferred nearly $10 million from the government's disaster relief agency to immigration enforcement.

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said the administration was taking money from FEMA's "response and recovery" to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency at a time when Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the Southeast U.S. coast.

But DHS officials said the money was transferred from unspent operational accounts for training, office supplies and headquarters costs. That funding cannot be spent on disaster response, they said. FEMA's annual budget is about $15 billion.

Merkley provided no evidence for his suggestion that the money came from hurricane response funds.

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9:30 a.m.

Jeff Byard of the Federal Emergency Management Agency says it is imperative locals heed the evacuation warnings.

He says the time to flee Hurricane Florence is now. Landfall was expected sometime late Thursday and FEMA officials said Wednesday was the last day for people to get out safely.

"Today's the day," he said. "It's time for our citizens to be a part of the team. Heed those warnings and evacuate if you're in one of the zones."

Byard told a news conference at FEMA headquarters in Washington that the agency has all the resources it needs to react to the natural disaster.

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8:55 a.m.

The mayor of a South Carolina city in the path of powerful Hurricane Florence is warning citizens to get out or stay "at your own peril."

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg told CNN on Wednesday that the nearly 135,000 residents of his historic coastal city should leave now before the storm arrives later in the week.

Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered evacuations in counties along the state's coast, including Charleston. All lanes of Interstate 26 are westbound to allow more people to leave the coast and head inland toward the state capital of Columbia.

Tecklenburg said his flood-prone city is preparing for "copious rain" by clearing out the city's drainage system and getting boats and portable pumps ready. Many areas in the low-lying city flood with routine rain storms, causing street closures and detours.

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8:30 a.m.

The National Weather Service says Hurricane Florence "will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast."

That's saying a lot, given the impacts from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew.

Forecasters in Wilmington, North Carolina, are emphasizing the potential for what they're calling "unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding."

With predicted rainfall measured in feet not inches, forecasters say people living along creeks and rivers in the Carolinas should move to higher ground well ahead of the storm's arrival.

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