Hurricane Florence starts flooding parts of the Carolinas

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption People have left homes and taken precautions ahead of the hurricane

According to authorities, however, Florence still has an enormous wind field that has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land and making the hurricane extremely risky.

"It doesn't matter how much money you have or how many generators you have if you can't get gas", she said.

It's unclear exactly how many people fled ahead of the storm, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.

A simulation weather video is showing what the life-threatening Hurricane Florence storm surge might look like if it reaches a frightening nine feet (2.7m).

The powerful storm already has inundated coastal streets with ocean water and left tens of thousands without power, and forecasters say that "catastrophic" freshwater flooding is expected over portions of the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence inches closer to the U.S. East Coast.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 miles per hour (160 kph), but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage.

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The police chief of Wrightsville Beach suggested that those who chose to stay give him their next-of-kin contact information.

At 11:00 pm (0300 GMT), Florence was over the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and moving northwest at six miles per hour, the NHC said.

Hurricane Florence has made landfall in North Carolina, but its crawling pace and overwhelming storm surges are setting up hours and hours of destruction and human suffering - with dozens desperately awaiting rescue in one flooded town alone. We are more inland from the coast.

With more than 1,500 commercial airline flights in and out of the Carolinas canceled - and potentially many more to come - even the skies above sat empty, except for Florence's foreboding cloud cover and rapidly strengthening rain. After criticism for its response in Puerto Rico to last year's Hurricane Maria, which officials there said was responsible for 3,000 deaths, Trump has vowed a vigorous response to Florence and defended his handling of Maria. The two hardware chains said they had sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks. Millions of people are expected to lose power from the storm and restoration could take weeks. Another 8 million people live in areas covered by hurricane and tropical storm warnings.

Some in the Carolinas have expressed frustration after evacuating their homes for a storm that was later downgraded - but officials have pushed back at suggestions that Florence's threat has been exaggerated. The downtown area was underwater.Calls for help multiplied as the wind picked up and tide rolled in, city public information officer Colleen Roberts said.

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Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty.

Almost 1.7m people along the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been ordered to evacuate.

North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centres in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities.

According to Colgate, initial weather forecasts had Greenville "on the very outer edge of the storm".

"The worst of the storm is not yet here, but these are the early warnings of what's to come", he said.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to remain alert despite changing forecasts. "Also, a little creepy".

'Now is the time' to evacuate Hurricane Florence danger, officials urge
Although Carolina coastlines will be met with storm surges, out in the open ocean Florence is producing rather terrifying waves. Charleston, resident William Belli said he would not be among those joining the exodus.

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