Scientists have filmed an astonishing video of the interior of Hurricane Florence, as the storm bears down on North and SC.
Florence, one of the strongest storms on the Eastern Seaboard in decades, is a strong Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 miles per hour.
Life-threatening storm surges of up to 13 feet were also forecast in some areas along with the possibility of tornadoes in North Carolina. Officials didn't reveal exactly which institutions would be evacuated due to security concerns, but said evacuated prisoners would get a free phone call to notify loved ones.
Florence continued to weaken overnight but it's still a hurricane and will likely maintain that status when it reaches the shoreline, though not as Category 3 or 4 - perhaps not even as a Category 2.
Early Wednesday afternoon in North Carolina, the storm was centered 700 kilometers (435 miles) off the coast, moving at 26 kph (16 mph) towards the U.S. coastline.
The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have all issued mandatory evacuation orders for the coastal communities that are in the storm's bull's eye. Predictions are for Florence to be far more violent storm.
Florence could strengthen some over open water and then weaken as it nears land, but the difference won't make it any less unsafe, forecaster Stacy Stewart wrote in a National Hurricane Center discussion.
"The largest threat to life from hurricanes is not the high winds, flooding is the deadliest result of these storms". Florence has weakened a bit over 24 hours, but it's also grown even larger - and it will likely dump torrential rain over North and SC through Monday.
"Been through it!" Belli said, referring to Hurricane Hugo, which caused widespread damage in SC in 1989.
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The National Weather Service says more than 5.4 million people live in areas now under hurricane warnings or watches on the US East Coast. "These enormous waves are produced by being trapped along with very strong winds moving in the same direction as the storm's motion".
Their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter's one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte.
"They told me to bring a pillow and blanket", Whisler said.
"I'm staying. The building's solid and Buddha will protect us", she told AFP news agency.
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.
"This is a very risky hurricane", Mr McMaster said, adding that the evacuation order for coastal counties was "mandatory, not voluntary".
The governors of Virginia, North Carolina and SC have declared states of emergency, according to CNN.
It was estimated that Harvey dropped the equivalent of 19 to 21 trillion gallons of water in the greater Houston area, or, as The Washington Post reported a year ago, enough water to fill Utah's Great Salt Lake four times. There are now two more tropical storms in the Atlantic - Joyce and Isaac - and a category 1 hurricane named Helen.
That's because the weather systems that usually push and pull a storm are disappearing as Florence nears land around the border between North and SC.