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Saturday September 22nd, 2018 1:31AM

The Latest: Forecaster predicts $50B-$60B in economic damage

By The Associated Press

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Florence (all times local):

11:50 a.m.

A private weather-forecasting firm is estimating that Hurricane Florence will cause $50 billion to $60 billion in economic damages.

Accuweather founder and President Joel Myers said in a news release Thursday that much of that will stem from flooding, with coastal damage as the second-biggest factors. Winds come in third.

Florence's winds had dropped from a peak of 140 mph (225 kph) to 105 mph (165 kph) by midmorning Thursday, reducing the hurricane from a Category 4 to a Category 2. But forecasters warned that the storm is growing in size and moving slowly, which will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours.

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11:50 a.m.

One of South Carolina's major power companies is warning customers to be wary of fallen power lines and other hazards that could come after Hurricane Florence's arrival.

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. CEO Keller Kissam gave updates to reporters Thursday in a news conference at the company's headquarters in Cayce (KAY-cee).

Kissam says the storm, which is expected to bring torrential rains and sustained winds, could mean that it takes linemen longer to repair any power problems, in part due to concerns for their own safety.

Kissam says SCE&G has been in touch with other power companies in the Southeast that are willing to help with any problems after the storm. Kissam says crews are already in South Carolina from other states, including Mississippi.

SCE&G has more than 700,000 power customers in South Carolina.

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11:50 a.m.

The Virginia National Guard says 1,200 personnel are staged and ready to respond as Hurricane Florence approaches.

Guard officials said in a statement Thursday that soldiers, airmen and members of the Virginia Defense Force are staged around the state to support local and state emergency management officials. Potential missions include high water transportation, debris reduction, commodity distribution, shelter management assistance and search and rescue.

Gov. Ralph Northam authorized up to 6,000 personnel for response operations and officials say they have been alerted and are on standby. Additional personnel will be on duty in Richmond and Fort Pickett to provide mission command, logistics, administrative and public information support.

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11:30 a.m.

All commercial flights have been canceled at the Myrtle Beach International Airport as Hurricane Florence approaches the South Carolina coast.

Airport spokesman Kirk Lovell said in an email that one flight left early Thursday morning and all other flights have been canceled for Thursday and Friday.

He said 84 flights with 12,248 seats were on the schedule for Thursday, with 80 flights with 11,416 seats scheduled for Friday.

Lovell said the airlines will decide when to resume service after Florence makes landfall. Myrtle Beach is served by 10 airlines.

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11:30 a.m.

Hurricane Florence is still the most dangerous of the four tropical storms in the Atlantic.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say Tropical Storm Isaac was speeding into the eastern Caribbean Sea on Thursday after passing between Dominica and Martinique. The poorly organized storm with 45 mph (75 kph) winds was not expected to strengthen.

Helene weakened to a tropical storm while moving north over the open Atlantic. Also over open waters, Subtropical Storm Joyce could transition into a tropical storm over the next couple days.

Forecasters also were watching a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico.

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11:30 a.m.

Gov. Roy Cooper is urging North Carolina residents not to ease up in their preparations for Hurricane Florence, despite southward changes in the storm's forecast and a decrease in its top sustained wind speeds.

Cooper said at a news conference Thursday morning that he's concerned because he's heard some people say North Carolina is "getting a break."

The governor says the state "cannot underestimate this storm." Forecasters are warning that Florence will bring surging ocean water, high winds and days of torrential rain.

Cooper says there are currently about 108 shelters open in North Carolina with more than 7,000 people in them. He says emergency management officials plan to open even more.

Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry says an estimated 750 people have packed a megashelter set up at a coliseum in Winston-Salem. Sprayberry says a team is conducting surveys to find other locations for potential megashelters.

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11 a.m.

Hurricane Florence is slowing down as its outer bands of wind and rain lash North Carolina's barrier islands.

As of 11 a.m., the Category 2 storm was centered about 145 miles (230 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 195 miles (315 kilometers) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its forward movement slowed to 10 mph (17 kph) and top sustained winds dropped slightly to 105 mph (165 kph).

Still, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says there is nothing "minor" about this hurricane. Water causes the most deaths during tropical storms and hurricanes, and Florence is expected to cause dangerous flooding.

Graham said areas that repeatedly get hit even with weaker winds at Florence's edges could see heavy rainfall for hours. Storm surge flooding also could push 2 miles (3 kilometers) or more inland if Florence lingers for days along the coast.

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10:45 a.m.

Duke Energy Corp. is shutting down a coastal North Carolina nuclear power plant ahead of Hurricane Florence.

The electricity provider says it began powering down one reactor early Thursday and would start shutting the second reactor later in the day. Florence was projected to reach land Friday near the plant located about five miles from the Atlantic Ocean near Southport.

The Brunswick plant's two reactors share the same design as those in Fukushima, Japan, that exploded and leaked radiation following a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Federal regulators later required all U.S. nuclear plants be reinforced against earthquakes and flooding.

Duke Energy did not provide information about specific changes made at Brunswick, other than to say emergency generators and pumps will remove stormwater if the plant floods.

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10:10 a.m.

The long big slosh has begun.

Meteorologists say the leading edge of Florence has arrived in North Carolina, with tropical storm-force winds carrying drenching bands of rainfall onto some beach communities.

Florence will likely bring days of rain totaling three feet or more, and a storm surge of ocean water that rises to more than 12 feet near the center of the storm.

Gov. Roy Cooper says he knows many people are watching the changing storm predictions and categories, and he's concerned because some are even saying that "North Carolina is getting a break." It's not.

"Please hear my message," he says. "We cannot underestimate this storm."

Cooper is saying: "Don't relax; don't get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill."

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9:50 a.m.

Federal emergency officials at a Washington briefing are urging people to treat Hurricane Florence seriously even though its top sustained winds are down to 110 mph (177 kph), which makes it a Category 2 storm.

They say it remains very large and very dangerous, bringing more than 30 inches of rain to the coast and heavy winds that will impact a giant swath of land.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long says storm surge warnings have not changed despite the weakening intensity on the wind scale.

He urged people in the coastal Carolinas and living near inland rivers to evacuate now.

"Please heed the warnings," Brock says: "Your time is running out."

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9:40 a.m.

The police chief of a barrier island in the bull's-eye of Hurricane Florence is warning any stragglers who refused to evacuate that they are making a dangerous choice.

At a news conference just across the bridge in Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said a handful of residents on the island have refused evacuation orders. He's telling them they "better go ahead and give me your next of kin" information, because no one will rescue them at the height of the storm.

The police chief says he's not going to put his people in harm's way, especially for people they've already told to evacuate. The latest forecast shows the eye of Florence could pass directly over the barrier island, pushing a huge surge of ocean water.

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9 a.m.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center warn that Florence remains deadly because of its size and slow forward speed, even if its top sustained winds have dropped it to Category 2 status as a hurricane.

Director Ken Graham says there is nothing "minor" about this hurricane. Water causes the most deaths during tropical storms and hurricanes, and Florence expected to cause dangerous flooding.

Graham said areas that repeatedly get hit even with weaker winds at Florence's edges could see heavy rainfall for hours. Storm surge flooding also could push 2 miles or more inland if Florence lingers for days along the coast.

Tornadoes also remain a threat, particularly in areas northeast of the hurricane's eye.

Senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart warns that Florence being a slow hurricane could mean three to four hours of battering, beach-eroding winds for some areas.

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8 a.m.

The outer bands of wind and rain from Hurricane Florence are moving onshore along North Carolina's barrier islands as the massive storm bears down on the Southeastern coastline.

As of 8 a.m., the Category 2 storm was centered about 170 miles (275 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 220 miles (355 kilometers) east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its forward movement slowed to 12 mph (19 kph) and top sustained winds stayed at 110 mph (175 kph).

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami don't expect it to strengthen from a Category 2 hurricane before it moves ashore, but they say the real problem will be water as Florence lingers along the coast through Saturday.

Florence's hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 195 miles (315 kilometers) from the eye.

_____

7:30 a.m.

The mayor of Myrtle Beach says her city has done as much as it can to prepare for Hurricane Florence.

Brenda Bethune told NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning that public safety crews have been checking to make sure businesses are secure, and looking for anything that could become a projectile as the winds come ashore.

But the mayor says she knows many people are ignoring evacuation orders. She hopes they'll stay inside once the winds, rain and floods arrive.

She says people often want to get outside and take pictures. Bad idea, she says because emergency crews won't be able to reach them in the storm.

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7:15 a.m.

The Coast Guard says port operations in Charleston, South Carolina, have been stopped as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast.

The Coast Guard said in a news release that the decision to stop port operations at 8 p.m. Wednesday comes because gale force winds of up to 54 mph (87 kph) were possible within 24 hours.

The Coast Guard said ocean-going vessels were told to prepare to leave. Those heading to Charleston were told to find another destination.

The Coast Guard warned pleasure boaters to find safe harbors and noted that drawbridges might not operate once winds reach 25 mph (40 kph).

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5 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says the outer rain bands of Hurricane Florence are approaching the coast of North Carolina.

Early Thursday the Category 2 was about 205 miles (325 kilometers) east southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 250 miles (405 kilometers) east southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The gradually slowing but still life-threatening storm is moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph). Little change in strength is expected before the center reaches the coast. Weakening is expected after the center moves inland.

The Miami-based center says the center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and South Carolina later today. It then will move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina in the hurricane warning area later Thursday and Friday.

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2 a.m.

Monster storm Hurricane Florence is barreling closer to the coast of the Carolinas.

Forecasters say wind speeds have dropped from a high of 140 mph (225 kph) to 110 mph (175 kph), reducing it to a Category 2 storm. But authorities warn Florence has an enormous wind field as it zeroes in on the Southeast U.S. coast, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land and making Florence extremely dangerous.

Early Thursday Florence was about 235 miles (378 kilometers) east southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and about 280 miles (450 kilometers) east southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The storm is moving northwest at 17 mph (27 kph).

The National Hurricane Center's says it expects Florence will blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then slog westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.

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11 p.m.

Time is running short to get out of the way of Hurricane Florence, a monster of a storm that has a region of more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights.

Forecasters say wind speeds have dropped from a high of 140 mph (225 kph) to 110 mph (175 kph), reducing it to a Category 2 storm. But authorities warn Florence has an enormous wind field as it zeroes in on the Southeast U.S. coast, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land and making Florence extremely dangerous.

The National Hurricane Center's says it expects Florence will blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then slog westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.

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