New projections indicate the now-Category 3 hurricane will move slightly southeast, with landfall expected between Wilmington and Morehead City, North Carolina. The National Weather Center said Florence will likely be "the storm of a lifetime" for portions of the Carolina coast. Those pipelines carry fuel from the Gulf Coast to much of the eastern United States. President Trump has declared an emergency in the three states and says the government is "as ready as anybody has ever been".
Weekend sporting events have already been canceled, with possibly more to come.
In the first report of storm-related fatalities, a mother and infant died after a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina, according to local police.
The storm's surge, the rise in sea water above normally dry land at the coast, could reach up to 13 feet at peak.
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"These enormous waves are produced by being trapped along with very strong winds moving in the same direction [of] the storm's motion", the agency said.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the storm was "wreaking havoc" on the coast and could wipe out entire communities as it makes its "violent grind across our state for days".
A hurricane warning was issued for South Santee River, SC, north to Duck, NC, and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.
More than 60 people, including an infant, children and their pets, were rescued from a collapsing hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, at the height of the storm, according to the Associated Press.
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. Many major roads and arteries have reversed traffic flow to help residents evacuate quickly. The entire coastlines of North and SC, in addition to some parts of southeastern Virginia, are under a mandatory evacuation plan. But rail cars with vehicles bound for Charleston and export markets overseas have been moved to secure areas until the storm passes.
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Some fluctuations in strength are expected through Thursday morning.
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. At maximum, it could be 4 to 8 inches, with even higher amounts locally depending on the exact track. Shortly afterward, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts to 105 miles per hour at Wilmington International Airport, the highest wind gust measured in Wilmington since Hurricane Helene hit the port city in 1958.
On Wednesday morning, Florence was extending hurricane-force winds outward up to 70 miles from its center, with tropical-storm-force winds up to 175 miles outward.
That system could develop into a tropical depression by Thursday night.
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