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Hurricane Florence is predicted to slam into the US's East Coast as an "extremely unsafe major hurricane" overnight on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.

The hurricane was about 470 miles (755 km) east-southeast of Myrtle beach SC, with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour (205 km/h), the Miami, Florida-based weather forecaster said.

Florence is now a powerful Category 3 storm with winds of 125mph, and is expected to strengthen before making landfall along the Carolina coast later this week.

The National Weather Service has issued strong warnings to residents of the Carolinas and other mid-Atlantic states, saying the hurricane would be the "storm of a lifetime", bringing damaging winds, life-threatening storm surges, and "catastrophic flooding".

Updated NHC forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast, bringing days of heavy rains that could bring intense inland flooding from SC to Virginia.

"The better prepared anybody is, it can potentially reduce the impact of the claims if you can better harden your facilities against damage", said Robert O'Brien, a managing director in the national property-claims practice at Marsh, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos. About 3000 people died in the aftermath of that storm.

The storm may stall over SC and North Carolina, dump several feet of rain, and trigger widespread flooding.

Some areas are expected to see between 20 and 30 inches of rain through early next week in the area shaded in purple in the second image above. In the States of Maryland and Virginia imposed a state of emergency. But North Carolina's code lagged the rest of the country by one or two cycles and didn't meet even the 2009 standards for anchoring windows and doors.

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"I'm not approaching Florence from fear or panic", said Brad Corpening, 35, who planned to ride out the storm in his boarded-up delicatessen in Wilmington.

"Staff will be on site as long as it's safe, and back out there as soon as the storm passes", she said of DEQ's efforts to oversee the companies storm response work.

Georgia's governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for all 159 counties and said the state "is mobilising all available resources to ensure public safety ahead of Hurricane Florence".

Duke Energy serves around 4 million people in North and SC. But his partner, Emily Whisler, said she will remain behind at the university where she is a resident in the psychiatry program.

Since Tuesday, forecasts have shifted the storm track towards the south and southwest after it reaches the coast, which could increase the storm's severity in coastal SC through Myrtle Beach and Charleston and even into parts of Georgia.

All three states ordered mass evacuations along the coast but getting out of harm's way has proved difficult since airlines were cancelling flights and motorists had a hard time finding fuel.

The storm's direction, moving straight into the coast at a perpendicular angle rather than along it, increases the severity of the storm surge, Young said.