'Dangerous' Hurricane Florence threatens homes of 5 million

(RNN) - People in areas vulnerable to a dangerous hurricane have left or are fleeing ahead of the storm's expected Friday or Saturday landfall.

The path of Hurricane Florence could affect the homes of more than 5 million people, and more than 1 million of them have been ordered to evacuate.

Officials in at least one area that ordered an evacuation will be going to homes to ask people planning to ride it out for information on their next of kin, CNN reported Wednesday.

The evacuations continued as Florence weakened a bit in its charge towards the East Coast, downgrading from a Category 3 storm to a Category 2, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest update.

In the 11 p.m. ET advisory, Florence was 280 miles southeast of Wilmington, NC, packing maximum-sustained winds of 110 mph and moving to the northwest at 17 mph.

Forecast maps show Florence stalling out just off the coast of the Carolinas for at least 24 hours, starting Friday morning. By Sunday, Florence will have dissipated to a tropical storm, and by Monday morning it will be a tropical depression.

States up and down the East Coast have a great potential for severe weather. Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland have declared states of emergency. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency on the federal level Tuesday for the Carolinas and Virginia.

Weekend sporting events have already been canceled, with possibly more to come. Three college football games with Top 25 teams have been called off: East Carolina at No. 11 Virginia Tech, No. 15 West Virginia at NC State and No. 18 Central Florida at North Carolina.

The threat of storm surges loom for areas in the path of the storm, meaning life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland is possible in the next 36 hours.

A storm surge warning has been issued from South Santee River, SC, to Duck, NC, and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.

A storm surge watch is in effect for Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC, and for north of Duck, NC, to the North Carolina/Virginia border.

A hurricane warning was issued for South Santee River, SC, north to Duck, NC, and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for north of Duck, NC, to the North Carolina/Virginia border.

A tropical storm watch is in effect for north of the North Carolina/Virginia border to Cape Charles Light, VA, and for Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.

Hurricane-force winds now extend up to 80 miles from the eye of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds now extend up to 195 miles from the center of the storm.

Evacuation orders for low-lying areas were issued Monday and continued Tuesday. Many major roads and arteries have reversed traffic flow to help residents evacuate quickly.

Expected to make landfall by Friday, the impact of the storm will be widespread, with destructive winds, life-threatening storm surge, dangerous surf, torrential rainfall, flooding and the potential for tornadoes.

Florence will bring large rainfall totals through Saturday in North Carolina, north South Carolina and Virginia, causing catastrophic flash flooding. North Carolina alone could get from 20 to 30 inches, with isolated spots possibly receiving 40 inches.

The impact of storm surge on the coast will depend on whether the storm's arrival coincides with high tide. 

Areas along the coast from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, NC, including the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo and Bay rivers may experience storm surges from 9 to 13 feet.

Other areas facing a surge include:

  • North Myrtle Beach to Cape Fear, 6 to 9 feet
  • Cape Lookout to Ocracoke Inlet, NC, 6 to 9 feet
  • South Santee River to North Myrtle Beach, SC, 4 to 6 feet
  • Ocracoke Inlet to Salvo, NC, 4 to 6 feet
  • Salvo, NC to North Carolina/Virginia border, 2 to 4 feet
  • Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, 2 to 4 feet

The East Coast isn't the only area facing the brunt of a storm. Tropical Storm Olivia is expected to move over Hawaii Wednesday or Thursday, KHNL reported.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic basin, Tropical Storm Isaac will strike the islands of the Lesser Antilles, with Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique under a tropical storm warning. Those areas are expected to experience tropical storm conditions and rainfall amount of up to 8 inches, and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands facing possible isolated amounts on 4 inches.

Hurricane Helene is moving north, where it's expected to become a tropical storm on Thursday.

And if that isn't enough, Subtropical Storm Joyce formed in the North Atlantic Tuesday afternoon, but it's not expected to hit the U.S. The system is expected to drift to the southwest in the coming days.

Another disturbance is swirling around in the Gulf of Mexico.

That system could develop into a tropical depression by Thursday night.

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