'Life-threatening' storm starts to lash US

This is Hurricane Florence's projected path

This is Hurricane Florence's projected path

Rain begins to fall as the outer bands of Hurricane Florence make landfall in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on 13 September 2018.

But the hurricane's sheer size meant it could batter the US East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day, according to weather forecasters.

People in areas vulnerable to the unsafe hurricane, particularly those in coastal regions, have fled ahead of the storm. It is now at Category 1.

Florence is a Category 2 storm in the Atlantic Ocean with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour (155 km per hour), the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as sluggish and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico past year.

With winds picking up along the coastline early Thursday, federal and state officials had issued final appeals to residents to get out of the path of the "once in a lifetime" weather system.

Hurricane-force winds extend up to 80 miles from the centre, and tropical storm effects reach 195 miles, The Independent reported.now less than 100 miles from Wilmington, North Carolina, the "meandering" Florence has been described as a "horrific nightmare storm" because meteorologists can not pinpoint where it will strike.

Myrtle Beach, a SC beach resort, was virtually deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic. "If we lose the house, oh well, we can get housing". "But we can't replace us so we made a decision to come here".

The US National Hurricane Center described how winds of up to 90 miles (150 kilometers) per hour were pummeling the state of North Carolina.

Steve Goldstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Florence's forward motion had slowed and it was not expected to make landfall in the Carolinas until "some time Friday afternoon, Friday evening or Saturday morning". Hurricane-force winds extended 130km from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 315km.

Southeastern coastal North Carolina into far northeastern SC could see 20 to 30 inches of rainfall; some isolated areas could see 40 inches.

"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", NHC said.

Hurricane Florence is on a path of destruction that will put millions of people at risk and threaten billions of dollars in property damage, centered on the Carolinas.

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.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia, jamming westbound roads and highways for miles.

Tens of thousands of people are already without power. Georgia, where governor Nathan Deal has now declared an emergency, is also thought to be in the firing line.

An estimated 3 million people across the Carolinas could be without power before long, and the lights may be out for weeks in some areas, said the region's largest provider, Duke Energy.

Authorities typically say those who ignore evacuation orders are "on their own" should an emergency occur before first responders can be deployed.

At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Cooper said.

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