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And in Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified, causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker.

Florence's winds weakened as it drew closer to land, dropping from a peak of 140 miles per hour (225 kph) earlier in the week, and the hurricane was downgraded from a terrifying Category 4 to a 2.

The hurricane's sheer size means it could batter the US East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day, according to weather forecasters.

Steve Goldstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Florence's forward motion had slowed overnight and it was not expected to make landfall in the Carolinas until "some time Friday afternoon, Friday evening or Saturday morning".

Cooper said Florence would spread heavy rainfall across the state for days, even if the storm veers south and comes ashore in South Carolina: "We're on the wrong side of this thing".

Rain bands are already affecting the eastern part of North Carolina and SC, with rain increasing and waves growing. A few hearty locals gathered at Cape Fear Wine and Beer pub in downtown Wilmington.

"These are folks who chose to stay and ride out the storm for whatever reason, despite having a mandatory evacuation", she said. "We've prepared all our supplies at home and frankly, we were bored". Kilbourne said the houses sit 18 to 30 feet above sea level, so they were not anxious about the storm surge.

The trend is "exceptionally bad news", said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it "smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge". "I am frightened about what's coming". "We're just watching and waiting".

At least 150,000 people were without power in North Carolina early on Friday with the brunt of the storm yet to come, according to utility companies. Millions were expected to lose power from the storm and restoration could take weeks. Some roads were already impassable in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

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While Cora acknowledged the government helped Puerto Rico , he questioned whether it did enough . Puerto Rico now says 2,975 people died on the island because of the storm.

Hurricane Florence's leading edge is battering the Carolina coast, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets, as the hulking storm closes in with 160kph winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend. Overall, the storm is 400 miles wide.

About 10 million people live in the path of the slow-moving storm and more than one million have been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia. "It's going to be a devastating time for many, many people up and down the coast", as she removed items from an office and moved boats into a cove.

Hurricane Florence brought a storm surge of some 3 meters (10 feet) as it began battering the United States east coast early on Friday.

NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook the storm surges could push in as far as 2 miles (3 km). Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian Mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

With the hurricane beginning to batter North Carolina, the state's Governor has asked US President Donald Trump for another federal disaster declaration beyond what he declared earlier this week.

Despite pleas from officials, some residents rejected calls to evacuate.

Waves slam the Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, NC, on Thursday.

Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but reconsidered due to its ferocity.