ISS images show massive Hurricane Florence from 400 km up

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in the three states

Even if Hurricane Florence's category weakens, or if the storm no longer maintains its hurricane status, the amount of rain can still be biblical. Outer bands from the hurricane were lashing land on Thursday, at least a full day before the National Hurricane Center expects the slow-moving storm's eye to blow ashore around the North Carolina-South Carolina line.

"This will be a storm that's going to be far larger than we have seen in perhaps decades", Trump said.

Florence is the most risky of three tropical systems now in the Atlantic. The centre is slowing down and is expected to stall and perhaps wander around just off shore on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

By Thursday afternoon, all flight operations were halted at a half-dozen airports along the coast of the Carolinas, and scattered cancellations were reported at other airports.

Computer simulations - especially the often star-performing European model - push the storm further south, even into SC and Georgia.

"The rain's going to be around for a long time", he said. "And that will produce a lot of damage as well as prolong the beach erosion".

While max sustained winds have decreased the area of hurricane force winds has increased. Officials are urging others in its path to follow suit, or prepare for the worst. "Kind of like Sandy", said George Kourounis, a storm-chaser from Toronto, who is in Wilmington, N.C. Hurricane Sandy formed in the Atlantic in 2012, hitting Jamaica and the Bahamas as a Category 1. Although it has shown signs of weakening, it will remain a powerful force, forecasters say.

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The storm would be expected to die out by Wednesday, Ms Smith said.

REUTERS/Randall HillThe beach along the pier is empty ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, U.S. September 12, 2018.

The storm was heading for the coast of the two states but heavy rain was also expected in Virginia to the north and Georgia to the south.

Florence is forecast to dump up to 40 inches (one meter) of rain in some areas after it makes landfall in North and South Carolina Thursday night or Friday.

The News & Observer reports that the storm's path shifted early Wednesday and it is now bearing down on southern North Carolina and northern SC, where it could dump up to 40 inches of rain in places. The hurricane centre also adjusted its projected track, but kept it north of what most computer models were showing, to provide some continuity with past forecasts.

It was located 575 miles (925 kms) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving at 17 mph (28 kph) in a west-northwest direction. US President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, freeing up federal resources for storm response. Its wind speeds have dropped from a high of 140 miles per hour (225 kph) to 110 miles per hour (175 kph), reducing it from a Category 4 storm to a Category 2, and additional fluctuations and weakening were likely as it swirled toward land.

In neighbouring Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan said his state was readying for potentially "historic and catastrophic rainfall, life-threatening flooding, and high winds". Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads.

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