NHC downgrades Florence to still risky Category 3 hurricane

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More than 1.5 million people have been ordered to evacuate along 300 miles of coastline.

The evacuations continued as Florence weakened a bit in its charge towards the East Coast, downgrading from a Category 3 storm to a Category 2, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest update.

With the change in the forecast, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal issued an emergency declaration for the entire state to ease regulations on trucks hauling gasoline and relief supplies, and asked people to pray for those in Florence's path. Life-threatening storm surge and rainfall is expected across portions of North and SC.

Now a Category 3 storm, Florence is sustaining winds at 135 miles per hour.

In Hampton Roads, a tropical storm watch remains in effect from Poquoson to the Virginia-North Carolina border.

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Some area residents described a harrowing retreat as the storm hit.

"I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence", Deal said.

"There's very high confidence that Florence will reach the southern coast of North Carolina on Thursday night as a very risky major hurricane", meteorologist Bob Henson wrote on the website weatherunderground.com on Tuesday night.

What's worse: Much of the Carolinas are already saturated from rainfall.

The storm is slowing down as it approaches land, and it is likely to linger over the Carolinas into the weekend.

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The Carolinas and Virginia will be smashed with the life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and inundating rain. Florence is stronger, so you should at least be prepared for some power outages and tree damage even if the storm does not come near us.

North Carolina Emergency Management will be running a 24-hour schedule and will add more swift water rescue teams and several more assets ahead of Florence's arrival at the coast.

As Hurricane Florence continues to move toward the northwest at 15 miles per hour, we will see an increase in wind speed and rain chances starting Thursday morning.

"We hope to have something left when we get home", she said. And with 9,000 additional resources coming from other utilities to help, more than 20,000 people are in place to attack restoration as soon as it's safe to do so.

"Everyone who is staying here is either a real old-timer, someone who doesn't know where would be better, or someone involved in emergency operations one way or another", said Fox. With that much size and strength, even a glancing blow could be devastating - something forecasters stressed as they noted the shift in the predicted track. "Also, a little creepy".

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Florence will be, in all likelihood, the most intense storm to strike the region in at least 25 years, since Hugo.