WHAT'S HAPPENING: Hurricane Florence looms over East Coast

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The National Weather Service (NWS) warns that the storm will bring a massive storm surge, strong winds, and life-threatening flooding potential in inland areas.

A long stretch of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard remained vulnerable to hurricane and tropical storm conditions, from Georgia north through the Carolinas into Virginia.

At 11.00pm (0300 GMT), the eye of the storm was 280 miles (450km) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving northwest at 17 mph. Although it weakened slightly Wednesday afternoon, forecasters do not expect Florence's strength to change much before it comes ashore near the North Carolina-South Carolina border.

A hurricane warning was in effect from the South Santee River in SC to Duck, N.C., nearly 400 miles.

The hurricane has claimed its first victims as it crashed into North Carolina, making landfall near Wrightsville Beach.

"Protection of life is the absolute highest priority", he added.

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Emergency preparations included activating more than 2,700 National Guard troops, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so major roads led away from shore, and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the Carolinas and Virginia.

Forecasters warned that drenching rains of 1 to 3½ feet as the hurricane-turned-tropical storm crawls westward across North and SC could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.

"I am anxious about what I might find when I go home, though", she said.

There was particular concern about the storm lingering once it nears the coast and moves onshore, allowing it to dump torrential amounts of rain in parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Florence, now a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour (209 km/h), was previously expected to travel north, up the North Carolina coast, after making landfall, according to the statement.

For people living inland in the Carolinas, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest. A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for Edisto Beach, South Carolina to South Santee River, South Carolina. "There's nobody left to work".

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"These are folks who chose to stay and ride out the storm for whatever reason, despite having a mandatory evacuation", city public information officer Colleen Roberts said.

"What can you do?" she asked.

"Everything is packed", Espinoza said. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have minded staying here".

A graphic of Hurricane Florence's path, generated today (Sept. 12) at 2 p.m. ET by the National Hurricane Center, shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow).

Scott's office said Florida has sent two urban search-and-rescue teams to North Carolina and SC; a nursing team of 29 people to North Carolina to help with special-needs shelters; and five ambulance teams to North Carolina to help with medical evacuations.

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