Dangerous Hurricane Florence edged closer Thursday to delivering a powerful blow to the east coast of the United States, with forecasters warning of life-threatening rainfall and flooding even as it weakened to a Category 2 storm.
As day broke for millions of jittery Americans in the monster storm’s path, rain from the Florence’s outer bands approached the coast of North Carolina.
Georgia joined four other coastal states issuing an emergency declaration as forecasts showed Florence dumping historic amounts of torrential rain on the southern state.
As Florence closed in, President Donald Trump and state and local officials urged residents in the path of the storm to evacuate before it was too late.
Appeals to stay safe came from as far away as space as German astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted pictures of the monster storm taken from the International Space Station along with the warning: “Watch out, America!”
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that Florence’s maximum sustained winds had eased to 110 miles per hour (175 kph) and it had been downgraded to a Category 2 storm from Category 3 on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale.
It was the second such drop in the space of hours, but the Miami-based NHC stressed it remained “a life-threatening situation” due to the risks of storm surge around coastal areas.
Up to 1.7 million people are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders, and coastal residents were frantically boarding up homes and businesses and hitting the road on Wednesday as the storm approached.
“Get out of its way, don’t play games with it, it’s a big one, maybe as big as they’ve seen,” Trump said. “We’ll handle it. We’re ready, we’re able.
“Protection of life is the absolute highest priority,” he added.