More than 20,000 on NC coast already without power from Florence gusts

West of Charleston South Carolina

The storm's center was about 145 miles (235 km) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as of Thursday night.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm would dump as much as 30 to 40 inches (76-102 cm) of rain on the southeastern coast of North Carolina and part of northeastern SC, as well as up to 10 inches (25 cm) in southwestern Virginia.

Around 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches and some 4.9 million in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, AP noted. The storm was a risky Category 4 hurricane Wednesday but was downgraded Thursday night to a Category 1 storm, and Friday to a tropical storm.

Duke Energy said it would close a pair of nuclear power reactors at its Brunswick plant on the Cape Fear River, about four miles from Southport, N.C. The company said its procedures required closing the plants when facing sustained 75 mph winds, even though the plants were created to withstand winds of more than 200 mph and a storm surge of 22 feet. "It can still bring a massive storm surge ashore".

"We got a little bit of water inside, but things weren't so bad", Church said. "Don't play games with it. It's a big one", he said at the White House.

Updated at 7:45 PM, (IST): Hurricane Florence has made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, which lies east of the city of Wilmington in North Carolina as a Category 1 Hurricane at 7:15 AM EDT packing winds of 150 kmph. As Florence moves over land, it is expected to weaken, so some counties won't experience the full impact of a Category 2 hurricane.

Virginia and Georgia are also under states of emergency, but it's North and SC that are positioned to suffer the worst of the storm's wrath. Airlines had canceled almost 1,000 flights and counting.

Home Depot and Lowe's activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. But residents inland are warned to expect life-threatening floods and should plan to be without power for days.

Duke Energy, the nation's No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.

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Tiffany Norton, a spokeswoman for Dorchester County, South Carolina, said emergency personnel are removed from road travel when winds reach tropical storm force. It said it was located about 40 miles (65 km) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and forecasters predicted a slow westward march.

"I built this house myself, so I'm not anxious at all, I know it's solid", he said.

Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty.

Authorities typically say those who ignore evacuation orders are "on their own" should an emergency occur before first responders can be deployed.

Hurricane Florence is beginning to bear down on the Carolinas with heavy winds and rising tides.

Forecasters anxious the storm's damage would be all the worse if it lingered on the coast.

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.

The forecasters have also warned that the expected rainfall could reach up to 40 inches and the storm is expected to slowly move southwest into SC before turning north. Most other beachgoers were long gone.

Bill Berlino, 83, said he was skeptical of the news reports he's seen about the hurricane.

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