Gov. Deal issues state of emergency for Georgia

Storm eye 2

Storm eye 2

President Trump has declared an emergency in the three states and says the government is "as ready as anybody has ever been".

Updated NHC forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast, bringing days of heavy rains that could bring intense inland flooding from SC, where some areas could see as much as 40 inches (1m) of rain, to Virginia.

As of 8 a.m. ET, Florence was 530 miles southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., moving west-northwest at 17 mph, the National Hurricane Center says.

The National Weather Service's best guess was that the hurricane would blow ashore Saturday morning along the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.

Beach communities in North and SC emptied out on Wednesday as Hurricane Florence threatened to unleash pounding surf and potentially deadly flooding as the most powerful storm to make a direct hit on the states in decades.

Florence is now rated a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, but life-threatening storm surge and rainfall is still expected across portions of the Carolinas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Wednesday.

Analytics firm CoreLogic predicts that the damage from Florence could be more than $170 billion - making it the most expensive hurricane to hit the continental U.S.

Florence's winds in the afternoon were down slightly to 125 miles per hour (205 kph), from a high of 140 miles per hour, and the Category 4 storm fell to a Category 3. North and SC and Virginia declared emergencies earlier in the week.

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. But the change was probably temporary and didn't do anything to lessen the danger, said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I'm scared we'll get 30 inches or more of rain", said Carol Trojniar, 69, a longtime Wilmington resident and retired real estate agent who has never experienced a Category 4 hurricane.

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

Michelle Stober loaded up valuables at her home on Wrightsville Beach to drive back to her primary residence in Cary, North Carolina. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.

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