(AFP) — Georgia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday as forecasters warned of torrential rain in the southern state after Hurricane Florence slams into the Carolinas with what an emergency management official called the force of a “Mike Tyson punch”.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said meanwhile that Florence’s maximum sustained winds had eased slightly and it had been downgraded to a Category 3 storm from a Category 4 on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale.
The NHC stressed, however, that while a slow weakening is expected over the next 24 hours “Florence is still forecast to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it nears the US coast late Thursday and Friday.”
As Florence churned across the Atlantic packing winds of 125 miles per hour (205 kph), President Donald Trump and state officials stepped up appeals to residents in the path of the monster storm to evacuate before it is too late.
“Get out of its way, don’t play games with it, it’s a big one, maybe as big as they’ve seen,” Trump said. “We’ll handle it. We’re ready, we’re able.
“But despite that, bad things can happen when you are talking about a storm this size,” he added.
Up to 1.7 million people are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders, and coastal residents were frantically boarding up homes and businesses and hitting the road on Wednesday as the storm approached.
Florence is forecast to dump up to three feet (almost a meter) of rain in some areas after it makes landfall in North and South Carolina.
“This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding,” the NHC said.
Life-threatening storm surges of up to 13 feet (3.9 meters) were also forecast in some areas of North Carolina along with the possibility of tornadoes.
“This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast,” said Jeff Byard, the associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“This is not going to be a glancing blow,” Byard said, warning of power outages, road closures, infrastructure damage and potential loss of life.