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Hurricane Florence: Life-threatening storm starts to lash Carolinas

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Tens of thousands of homes are without power and sea water is sloshing through coastal streets as Hurricane Florence begins lashing the US East Coast.

The hurricane is moving towards land with maximum sustained wind speeds of 90mph (150 km/h).

It lost power as it approached North and South Carolina, but officials warn it could still kill “a lot of people” amid risks of “catastrophic” flooding.

Evacuation warnings are in place for more than a million people.

The governor of North Carolina, where Florence is expected to make landfall later on Friday local time, said surviving the storm would be a test of “endurance, teamwork, common sense, and patience”.

“The first bands of the storm are upon us but we have days more to go,” Roy Cooper said.

National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear said North Carolina is likely to see eight months’ worth of rain in two to three days.

What are the dangers?

Conditions deteriorated throughout Thursday. Some areas of North Carolina saw almost a foot of rain just a few hours, and footage showed sea levels begin to surge in land.

At 23:00 local time (03:00 GMT) the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said wind speeds had slightly lowered, making it a category one hurricane.

The NHC says that despite the gradual lowering in wind strength, the storm remains extremely dangerous because of the high volume of rainfall and storm surges predicted.

“Inland flooding kills a lot of people, unfortunately, and that’s what we’re about to see,” said Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema).

He said that people living near rivers, streams and lowland areas in the region were most at risk.

How are people coping?

More than a million people have been ordered to leave the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia, with more than 12,000 taking refuge in emergency shelters.

Asked what she was most worried about, Monica Scott, a young mother who had brought her children to a shelter in North Carolina, said: “Not having a place to go home to, or a job.”

Not everyone though has obeyed the warnings.

Queues were reported outside a branch of Waffle House in the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. The restaurant is used as a measure of how bad storms are.

A man in North Carolina said he would stay with his dog, since shelters were not taking pets. “I’m not leaving him here,” Antonio Ramirez told the AFP news agency,

More than 150,000 people already without power, but energy companies warn up to three million homes and businesses could also lose power.

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Officials have warned restoring electricity could take days or even weeks.

Petrol stations in the area are reporting shortages.

Over 1,400 flights have been cancelled, according to FlightAware.com, as most of the coastal region’s airports are closed to ride out the storm.

Emergency workers are arriving from other parts of the US to aid in rescues.

How long will this last?

Latest predictions show the storm slowing to a near standstill as it pummels the coast with “copious amounts of rain” from Thursday night to Saturday.

Wind speeds are only expected to weaken on Saturday as the storm moves slowly across land.

Hurricanes

A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses.

Hurricanes develop from thunderstorms, fuelled by warm, moist air as they cross sub-tropical waters.
Warm air rises into the storm.

Air swirls in to fill the low pressure in the storm, sucking air in and upwards, reinforcing the low pressure.

The storm rotates due to the spin of the earth and energy from the warm ocean increases wind speeds as it builds.

When winds reach 119km/h (74mph), it is known as a hurricane – in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific – or a typhoon in the Western Pacific.

"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face."
Florida Mayor Bob Buckhorn, ahead of Hurricane Irma (2017)

The central eye of calmer weather is surrounded by a wall of rainstorms.
This eyewall has the fastest winds below it and violent currents of air rising through it.

A mound of water piles up below the eye which is unleashed as the storm reaches land.
These storm surges can cause more damage from flooding than the winds.

"Urgent warning about the rapid rise of water on the SW FL coast with the passage of #Irma’s eye. MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!"
Tweet from the National Hurricane Center

The size of hurricanes is mainly measured by the Saffir-Simpson scale – other scales are used in Asia Pacific and Australia.

Winds 119-153km/h
Some minor flooding, little structural damage.
Storm surge +1.2m-1.5m

Winds 154-177km/h
Roofs and trees could be damaged.
Storm surge +1.8m-2.4m

Winds 178-208km/h
Houses suffer damage, severe flooding
Storm surge +2.7m-3.7m

Hurricane Sandy (2012) caused $ 71bn damage in the Caribbean and New York

Winds 209-251km/h
Some roofs destroyed and major structural damage to houses.
Storm surge +4m-5.5m

Hurricane Ike (2008) hit Caribbean islands and Louisiana and was blamed for at least 195 deaths

Winds 252km/h+
Serious damage to buildings, severe flooding further inland.
Storm surge +5.5m

Hurricane Irma (2017) caused devastation in Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless

"For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life."
Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin ahead of Hurricane Gustav, 2008

Are you in the area? How are you preparing for the hurricane? If it is safe to do so please tell us about your situation by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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