The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast

The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
Waves crash under the Avalon Fishing Pier in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The big slosh has begun, and the consequences could be disastrous.

Hurricane Florence's leading edge battered the Carolina coast Thursday, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets on the Outer Banks, as the hulking storm closed in with 105 mph (165 kph) winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend.

Forecasters said conditions will only get more lethal as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland. Its surge of ocean water could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 13 feet, and days of downpours could dump more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.

Florence's winds weakened as it drew closer to land, dropping from a peak of 140 mph (225 kph) earlier in the week, and the hurricane was downgraded from a terrifying Category 4 to a 2.

But North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality."

Forecasters said that given the storm's size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial and farm waste sites.

The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
Police patrol past boarded up shops along the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

"It truly is really about the whole size of this storm," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. "The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact—and we have that."

Schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia, airlines canceled about 1,200 flights and counting, and coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely emptied out.

Around midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington. Some of the few people still left in Nags Head on the Outer Banks took photos of angry waves topped with white froth. By early afternoon, utilities reported about 12,000 homes and businesses were already in the dark.

Wilmington resident Julie Terrell was plenty concerned after walking to breakfast past a row of shops fortified with boards, sandbags and hurricane shutters.

The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
An onlooker checks out the heavy surf at the Avalon Fishing Pier in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm probably a 7" in terms of worry, she said. "Because it's Mother Nature. You can't predict."

More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.

Duke Energy Co. 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.

As of 2 p.m., Florence was centered about 110 miles (180 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, its forward movement slowed to 10 mph (17 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometers).

The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
New Hanover Sheriff's Corp. N. Brothers wraps a gas pump for protection in Wilmington, N.C., as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Scientists said it is too soon to say what role, if any, global warming played in the storm. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster because of human-caused climate change.

Florence's weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who worried that the storm could still be deadly.

Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that was later downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a Wilmington hotel several miles inland.

"Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated," said Fisher, 74. "I've got four cats inside the house. If I can't get back in a week, after a while they might turn on each other or trash the place."

The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
In this Sept. 12, 2018 photo provided by NASA, Hurricane Florence churns over the Atlantic Ocean heading for the U.S. east coast as seen from the International Space Station. Astronaut Alexander Gerst, who shot the photo, tweeted: "Ever stared down the gaping eye of a category 4 hurricane? It's chilling, even from space." (Alexander Gerst/ESA/NASA via AP)

Authorities pushed back against any suggestion the 's threat was exaggerated.

The police chief of a barrier island in Florence's bulls'-eye said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave.

"I'm not going to put our personnel in harm's way, especially for people that we've already told to evacuate," Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said.

  • The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
    An onlooker checks out the heavy surf at the Avalon Fishing Pier in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
  • The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
    Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
  • The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
    Police patrol past boarded up shops along the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
    Body surfer Andrew Vanotteren, of Savannah, Ga., crashes into waves from Hurricane Florence, Wednesday, Sept., 12, 2018, on the south beach of Tybee Island, Ga. Vanotteren and his friend Bailey Gaddis said the waves have gotten bigger and better every evening as the storm approaches. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
  • The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
    This enhanced satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence off the eastern coast of the United States on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 at 5:52 p.m. EDT. (NOAA via AP)
  • The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
    Filling sandbags with sand provided by the City of Tybee Island, Sib McLellan, left, and his wife, Lisa McLellan, prepare for Hurricane Florence, Wednesday, Sept., 12, 2018 on Tybee Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
  • The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
    Vickie Grate, left, waits in a shelter with her son Chris, center, and his girlfriend Sarah, who only gave their first names, for Hurricane Florence to pass after evacuating from their nearby homes, in Conway, S.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
    Members of law enforcement work with the National Guard to direct traffic onto U.S. Highway 501 as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, near Conway, S.C. 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. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
  • The big slosh: Florence begins days of rain, wind on coast
    New Hanover Sheriff's deputy J. Brown wraps a gas pump for protection in Wilmington, N.C., as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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