Hurricane Florence Tracker: Storm nears Carolina coast, millions in path

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VIDEOS: Hurricane Florence heads toward Carolinas (1 of 18)

Florence flooding: North, South Carolina cope with wet misery left by storm

Residents grapple with flooding after Florence moves through Carolinas.

Hurricane Florence put a corridor of more than 10 million people in the crosshairs Wednesday as the monster storm closed in on the Carolinas, uncertainty over its projected path spreading worry across a widening swath of the Southeast.

Faced with new forecasts that showed a more southerly threat, Georgia's governor joined his counterparts in Virginia and North and South Carolina in declaring a state of emergency, and some residents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes.

The National Hurricane Center's best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.

Florence's nighttime winds were down to 110 mph (175 kph) from a high of 140 mph (225 kph), and the Category 3 storm fell to a Category 2, with a further slow weakening expected as the storm nears the coast. But authorities warned it will still be an extremely dangerous hurricane.

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Hurricane Florence has slowed in the Atlantic, but is still being considered a catastrophic event.

"Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?" said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Tropical storm-force winds extended 195 miles (315 kilometers) from Florence's center, and hurricane-force winds reached out 70 miles (110 kilometers).


The National Weather Service said 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches.

At the White House, President Donald Trump both touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way of Florence.

"Don't play games with it. It's a big one," he said.

Hurricane Florence size is 'chilling, even from space,' astronaut writes
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Alexander Gerst, an astronaut with the European Space Agency, shared photos of Hurricane Florence from space, writing, ''Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you.''

As of 11 p.m., the storm was centered 280 miles (455 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving northwest at 17 mph (28 kph). The hurricane center said Florence will approach the coast Friday and linger for a while before rolling ashore.

As of Tuesday, more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. Airlines had canceled nearly 1,000 flights and counting. 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 1,100 trucks.

WATCH: Highway traffic reversed as people flee Hurricane Florence
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Gas shortages and gridlocked traffic are making it difficult for those trying to flee Hurricane Florence.

Duke Energy, the nation's No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.

RELATED: What happens to your home in hurricane-force winds?

Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.

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

Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty. In contrast to the hurricane center's official projection, a highly regarded European model had the storm turning southward off the North Carolina coast and coming ashore near the Georgia-South Carolina line.

Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.

"I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence," Deal said.

The shift in the projected track spread concern to areas that once thought they were relatively safe. In South Carolina, close to the Georgia line, Beaufort County emergency chief Neil Baxley told residents they need to prepare again for the worst just in case.

"We've had our lessons. Now it might be time for the exam," he said.

Hurricane Florence photos: Traffic jams and boarded windows as Southeast braces for storm

In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged people to remain away from home despite forecast changes showing Florence's path largely missing the state.

Their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter's one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle.

"We're just trying to plan for the future here, not having a house for an extended period of time," David Garrigus said.

Melody Rawson evacuated her first-floor apartment in Myrtle Beach and arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, to camp for free with three other adults, her disabled son, two dogs and a pet bird.

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

Forecasters worried the storm's damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast. The trend is "exceptionally bad news," said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it "smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge."

With South Carolina's beach towns more in the bull's-eye because of the shifting forecast, Ohio vacationers Chris and Nicole Roland put off their departure from North Myrtle Beach to get the maximum amount of time on the sand. Most other beachgoers were long gone.

"It's been really nice," Nicole Roland said. "Also, a little creepy. You feel like you should have already left."

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A suburban ambulance company is heading to the hurricane zone to help with relief efforts.

A suburban ambulance company is heading to the hurricane zone to help with relief efforts.

Eight ambulances packed up in the middle of the night to make the long journey south to Garner, North Carolina, and dispatched out of their hub in Mokena. Elite Medical Transportation is sending a team of 16 paramedics based in Orland Park

Elite got the call from FEMA Tuesday night requesting support as Hurricane Florence takes aim at the Carolinas. Elite's paramedics will help people evacuate and also respond to any medical emergencies that could happen during or after the storm.

"It's an adrenaline rush," said dispatcher Michele Saternus. "You're just waiting for the next call. Waiting to get someone you don't know what you're getting, you don't know where you're going. We're driving into the storm as everyone's moving out. So you're on this expressway or these back roads, you're driving into the storm as everyone is leaving."

The team will stay until FEMA gives them the green light to head back up here. Right now Elite says their EMT's are prepared and ready.

They were scheduled to arrive in North Carolina by 4 p.m. central time.

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Argonne's computer models are updated in real time based on the track of Hurricane Florence, and the information is shared with first responders.

To help with recovery, researchers at the Argonne Laboratory in Lemont have developed computer models that predict the impact of the hurricane on infrastructure.

The information, which takes into account flooding, winds and storm surge, helps first responders and utility companies prepare before the storm strikes. As a result, things such as utilities can be restored sooner.

The hurricane is not expected to make landfall until Friday, but the computer models are updated in real time and the information is being shared with first responders.

WLS-TV contributed to this report
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weatherhurricanetropical stormforecasthurricane florenceu.s. & worldVirginiaNorth CarolinaSouth Carolina
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