Time is running short to get out of the way of Hurricane Florence, a monster of a storm that has a region of more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights as it zeroes in on the Southeastern coast in US.
Authorities warned Florence has an enormous wind field that has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land and making Florence extremely dangerous.
"Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?" said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 160 kph, but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion ($1,525,765,000) in damage. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and he said it will still be an extremely dangerous storm for rain and storm surge.
The hurricane center is forecasting the storm to hover near the coast Saturday (US time) with winds of around 130 kph before landfall, but with rainfall in the 50 to 75 centimetre range and up to nearly 4 metre of storm surge.
President Donald Trump both touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way. "Don't play games with it. It's a big one," he said at the White House.
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. Airlines had canceled nearly 1,000 flights and counting.
It’s predicted the fierce weather system will linger over the Carolina coast for days, not hours.
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Power company Duke Energy, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.
In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged people to remain away from home despite forecast changes showing Florence's path largely missing the state.
Melody Rawson evacuated her first-floor apartment in Myrtle Beach and arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, to camp for free with three other adults, her disabled son, two dogs and a pet bird.
"We hope to have something left when we get home," she said. Three other Southern raceways also opened campgrounds to evacuees.