Oklahoma search and rescue helicopter team leaves for Hurricane Florence

Will Hurricane Florence Strengthen into a Rare Category 5 Storm

Warnings Intensify as FEMA Says Florence "Will Be a Mike Tyson Punch to Carolina Coast"

Florence is now a Category 4 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale and is forecast to slam into the Carolinas late Thursday or early Friday.

"The Charleston area now is expected to see at least 1-2 inches of rain over the next several days".

The hurricane center said Florence will approach the coast Friday and linger for a while before rolling ashore. "The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact - and we have that".

The slow movement, combined with the massive amount of moisture this storm holds, will bring unsafe rains - from 20 to 30 inches in coastal North Carolina, with 40 inches possible in isolated areas, the weather service says.

He urged people in the coastal Carolinas and living near inland rivers to evacuate.

Oklahoma emergency management officials are prepared to respond to any requests and deploy resources as needed, White said.

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As of 11am local time, Florence was centred about 145 miles south east of Wilmington and its forward movement slowed to 10mph.

Hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles from its centre, and tropical storm force winds reached up to 195 miles from the eye.

Hurricane Florence is now expected to head more directly west after making landfall, crossing through SC. Damaging winds could also spread well inland in those states and into Virginia, the hurricane center said.

News that the storm could plow through SC after landfall came shortly after McMaster lifted his mandatory-evacuation order for Beaufort County and many other areas south of Charleston. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle.

The last Category 4 hurricane to plow directly into North Carolina was Hazel in 1954, a devastating storm that killed 19 people.

"Don't relax; don't get complacent".

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"Let me tell you, this one really scares me", National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in a Facebook video earlier on Tuesday.Citing his 24 years in the National Weather Service, Graham added, "It's one of those situations, you're going to get heavy rain, catastrophic life-threatening storm surge. and also the wind". The Category 3 hurricane is expected to be one of the biggest on record to hit Virginia and the Carolinas, potentially causing as much as $170 billion in property damage, according to at least one estimate.

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. Winds are dicey at times in Long Island around that timeframe, with New England and the Canadian Maritimes seeing lighter, more favorable winds at times.

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

Video taken in several towns in the Carolinas showed emergency personnel wading through thigh-high water. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath.

Forecasters anxious the storm's damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast.

"He was thinking of coming here until this morning, and now he asked me if I wanted to come up there", he said. "I was in the same house and it stood fine". They typically rebound once insurers and risk modelers get a clearer picture of actual losses and whether individual companies have enough capital in place to cover them, Newsome said.

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