Communities along the Carolina coast buttoned up against the onslaught of Hurricane Florence as forecasters Wednesday warned that the monstrous storm could hesitate just offshore for days - punishing a longer stretch of coastline harder than previously feared - before pushing inland over the weekend.
In contrast to the hurricane center's official projection, a highly regarded European model had the storm turning southward off the North Carolina coast and coming ashore near the Georgia-South Carolina line. Forecasters said Florence could become an extremely risky major hurricane sometime Monday and remain that way for days.
Expected to make landfall by Friday, the impact of the storm will be widespread, with destructive winds, life-threatening storm surge, risky surf, torrential rainfall, flooding and the potential for tornadoes.
Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said that while Florence is expected to slow down considerably by late Thursday and into Friday, it will still be an "extremely unsafe major hurricane" when it makes landfall.
Hurricane-force winds now extend up to 80 miles from the eye of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds now extend up to 195 miles from the center of the storm. Duke Energy serves around 4 million people in North and SC.
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"I can't emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding with this storm".
Florence was about 550 miles off shore Wednesday morning and is expected to bring rain, wind and a massive storm surge to the Carolinas by Thursday. Life-threatening storm surge and rainfall is expected across portions of North and SC.
In Charleston, South Carolina, streets were quiet with schools and many offices and businesses closed.
North Carolina governor Roy Cooper told locals not to "bet your life on riding out a monster", with ferocious winds set to batter the shoreline.
News that the storm could plow through SC after landfall came shortly after McMaster lifted his mandatory-evacuation order for Beaufort County and many other areas south of Charleston.
"You'd have to expect, just based on the forecast, that it's going to be a significant impact to businesses", including prolonged disruptions, said Rick Miller, head of the US property practice at Aon Plc. "This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding", the NHC said.
"I do worry though about people here because many didn't prepare, you know, because originally they didn't think it was going to be so bad here", Sparks said.
Fountain said they are also expecting a "natural gas event" as Hurricane Florence rolls into the Carolinas, which will impact meters and appliances, though likely not as extreme as the electric system will be impacted.