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"Heavy rain has been occurring in and around Oriental, North Carolina, where 20.37 inches of rainfall has been measured thus far", the National Hurricane Center said in an update.

The rainy summer has already caused some flooding at the zoo, so Kottyan said it has already identified problem areas on the grounds and is taking measures to guard against additional flooding from the hurricane, such as blocking animal stall doors with hay bails.

Although evacuations for residents are less likely here, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is advising Marylanders to factor pets and livestock into their disaster preparedness plans.

Winds have dropped to about 144km/h but North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said the worst of the storm was yet to come.

Further south, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, more than 60 people were evacuated from a hotel after police received a 911 call just before 1am, the city's public safety department said in a statement. Notice the lag in flooding; most rivers will begin to rise 48 to 72 hours after the storm exits the coast.

Trump faced severe criticism for his administration's response to Hurricane Maria previous year in Puerto Rico. Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did.

As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are "supplied and ready", and he disputed the official conclusion that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad.

The National Hurricane Center said there was more than 10 feet (3 meters) of inundation in New Bern.

The worst of the storm's fury had yet to reach coastal SC, where emergency managers said it was not too late for people to get out.

While Zone A is a mandatory evacuation zone, a city spokesperson said they would never force anyone to leave.

"The water kept rising and kept rising", he said.

In the video, the astronauts expressed awe at the size of the storm, while also pointing out Isaac, a former tropical storm now making its way through the Caribbean. Near Wilmington alone, Duke Energy reported 67 percent of its customers - 86,000 - had lost power.

There was a threat from tornadoes as Florence made landfall, the NHC said.

Adding to concerns, forecasters warned the larger and slow-moving storm could linger for days around the coast, leaving many without power and supplies.

The storm splintered buildings and trapping hundreds of people in high water as it settled in for what could be a long and extraordinarily destructive drenching. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 kilometres) from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometres). "If I can't get back in a week, after a while they might turn on each other or trash the place".

"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", New Bern city officials said on Twitter.


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