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Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but reconsidered due to its ferocity. Its forward movement increased slightly to 6 miles per hour (9 kph).

Its hurricane-force winds extend up to 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the centre, and its tropical storm-force winds extend up to 315 kilometres (195 miles). There is also a "slight" risk of tornadoes in the coastal region of North Carolina.

Marge Brown, 65, says goodbye to her father, George Brown, 90, before he is evacuated from a healthcare home in Morehead City, N.C., September 12, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast.

At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.

Officials found a basketball-sized hole in the hotel wall and other life-threatening damage, with some cinder blocks crumbling and parts of the roof collapsing.

The Triangle will feel the strongest effects from Florence after 8 a.m.

Image: Waters come ashore in Avon, North Carolina.

WXII-TV reported that 150 people were waiting to be rescued from rising waters in the city New Bern. "Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000". A city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts told WRAL-TV that 200 people have already been plucked to safety.

Morgan is one of several people who arrived at Cleveland Hopkins Airport on a flight from Charlotte late Wednesday afternoon, trying to get out of the path of Hurricane Florence.

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One resident, 67-year-old Linda Smith, told the MailOnline: "We're a little anxious about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now.

About 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, the National Weather Service said.

Hurricane Florence is continuing to push towards a landfall around the North Carolina/South Carolina border, and is beginning to lash the central Atlantic seaboard with damaging winds and storm surge.

Florence, which is forecast to crawl up to the North Carolina coast later this week and turn slowly left, weakened Wednesday night as it continued toward the coastal Carolina areas, reported the National Hurricane Center.

Hurricane Florence is shaping up to be a disgusting storm, and it does not look any better when you look at it from space. Emerald Isle is about 84 miles (135 kilometers) north of Wilmington.

Just before 5am ET (10am BST) the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the eye of the storm was about to make landfall in North Carolina as hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated.

Parts of North and SC are expecting "catastrophic flooding" due to Florence, despite it only being a Category 1 storm.

As of 2 a.m., Florence was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina. "Winds will be increasing in the Piedmont-Triad today and the heaviest winds and gusts will last through Sunday".

The storm's intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to around 90 miles per hour (144 kph) by nightfall.