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Beach areas empty out ahead of storm

Chris and Nicole Roland walk down an empty North Myrtle Beach in South Carolina on Wednesday. The couple have boarded up their uncle's condominium and are leaving soon as Hurricane Florence approaches. (AP)

Wilmington, North Carolina: Beach communities in North and South Carolina emptied out on Wednesday as Hurricane Florence threatened to unleash pounding surf and potentially deadly flooding as the most powerful storm to make a direct hit on the states in decades.

Florence had maximum sustained winds of 215kmph and was on a trajectory that showed its centre most likely to strike the southern coast of North Carolina by Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Updated NHC forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast, bringing days of heavy rains that could bring intense inland flooding from South Carolina, where some areas could see as much as 1 metre of rain, to Virginia.

"This storm is big and it's vicious," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on NBC's Today Show on Wednesday. "Flooding is a significant risk here and often when there is flooding the people who can afford it the least get hit the most."

More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastline of the three states, while university campuses, schools and factories were being shuttered.

The NHC said the first tropical storm-force winds of at least 63kmph would hit the region early on Thursday with the storm's centre reaching the coast on Friday. At 1200 GMT on Wednesday the storm was located about 855km southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.

President Donald Trump on Twitter warned of the storm's dangers and praised his administration's handling of past hurricanes, rejecting criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria. Reuters

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