Farmers along the East Coast of the United States are among those preparing for what forecasters say may be one of the most damaging weather systems to hit the US in decades.
Hurricane Florence, growing in size and intensity, is creeping closer to the US East Coast as disaster mobilisations expand south from the Carolinas into Georgia to counter the threat of fierce winds, deadly high seas and calamitous floods.
The centre of Florence, a slow-moving Category 3 hurricane, is expected to draw close to the North Carolina coast on Friday afternoon local time - perhaps lingering just offshore - then drift southwest along the shoreline before turning inland on Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The storm's maximum sustained winds were clocked on Wednesday at 185km/h, down from a peak of 225km/h a day earlier before Florence was downgraded from a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of wind strength.
But the NHC are warning Florence is still posing a deadly threat to a wide stretch of the US Eastern Seaboard, from southern Georgia into southern Virginia, capable of unleashing rain-fuelled catastrophic flooding of rivers and low-lying areas.
Farmers are now rushing to harvest crops and get livestock to higher ground. In the state of North Carolina, the Governor has declared a State of Emergency and waived transportation rules to help farmers harvest and transport their crops more quickly.
It appears the commodities most likely in the firing line for damage include tobacco, corn and cotton.
Although its peak winds diminished, forecasters said the storm's total energy grew as its inner core and outlying bands of wind expanded.
"The time to prepare is almost over," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a morning news conference.
"Disaster is at the doorstep and it's coming in."
In addition to inundating the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as four metres along the Carolina coast, Florence could dump 51 to 76cm of rain, with up to one metre in parts of North Carolina, the NHC said.
Downpours and flooding would be especially severe, lasting for days, if the storm stalls over land. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Tens of thousands of homes and businesses could be flooded in North Carolina alone, Governor Cooper warned.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, concerned the storm would bring devastation south, issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in his state. Similar declarations were made earlier in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
More than one million have been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia. Authorities in Chatham County, Georgia, which borders South Carolina and includes the historic port city of Savannah, urged residents who feel unsafe "to evacuate as they see fit."
An estimated 10 million people live in areas expected to be placed under a hurricane or storm advisory, said Marc Chenard of the US Weather Prediction Centre.
Emergency preparations in the region included activating over 2,700 National Guard troops, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so major roads led away from shore, and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the Carolinas and Virginia.
Australian Associated Press. Additional reporting Penelope Arthur and Sharon O’Keeffe
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