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Storm’s uncertain track sows fear; 10 million in crosshairs

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    Sand bags surround homes on North Topsail Beach, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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    Steve Wareheim poses for a photo after making one last grocery run to prepare for Hurricane Florence at a grocery store in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Wareheim decided to ride out the storm at home after buying a generator this week. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

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    Marge Brown, 65, says goodbye to her father, George Brown, 90, before he is evacuated from a healthcare home in Morehead City, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. “I’d like to stay and see what happens. I’m 90 plus,” said Brown, a WWII veteran who says he’s survived a plane crash and severe burns from a laboratory fire where he once worked. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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    A boat is docked partially in the road as workers pull boats from the water in Wanchese Harbor in Wanchese, N.C. as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast of the Carolinas, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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    Tim Avery pulls boards to the third story of a home as he prepares for Hurricane Florence at a home in Emerald Isle N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland)

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    A sign posts a mandatory evacuation prior to Hurricane Florence in Emerald Isle N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland)

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    Sarah Dankanich, right, removes an “out of service” wrapper from a gas pump as her husband, Bryan Dankanich, left, prepares to pump gas in cans in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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    As store windows are prepped with plywood a couple waits for their automobile in Nags Head, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast of the Carolinas. The National Weather Service says Hurricane Florence “will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast.” (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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    FILE- In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, file photo a man walks out of the boarded up Robert’s Grocery in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., in preparation for Hurricane Florence. Though it’s far from clear how much economic havoc Hurricane Florence will inflict on the southeastern coast, from South Carolina through Virginia, the damage won’t be easily or quickly overcome. In those states, critically important industries like tourism and agriculture are sure to suffer. “These storms can be very disruptive to regional economies, and it takes time for them to recover,” said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP, File)

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    Adam Bazemore uses his foot to pack down sandbags in a doorway, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in the Willoughby Spit area of Norfolk, Va., as he makes preparations for Hurricane Florence. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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    FILE- In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, photo crews board up the Oceanic restaurant in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., in preparation for Hurricane Florence. Though it’s far from clear how much economic havoc Hurricane Florence will inflict on the southeastern coast, from South Carolina through Virginia, the damage won’t be easily or quickly overcome. In those states, critically important industries like tourism and agriculture are sure to suffer. “These storms can be very disruptive to regional economies, and it takes time for them to recover,” said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP, File)

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    This image provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, as it threatens the U.S. East Coast. Hurricane Florence is coming closer and getting stronger on a path to squat over North and South Carolina for days, surging over the coast, dumping feet of water deep inland and causing floods from the sea to the Appalachian Mountains and back again. (NASA via AP)

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    Sarah Dankanich, right, removes an “out of service” wrapper from a gas pump as her husband prepares to pump gas in cans in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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    FILE- In this Sept. 11, 2018, file photo Ashley DeGroote, left, and husband Jeff DeGroote remove the awning at South End Surf Shop in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., in preparation for Hurricane Florence. Though it’s far from clear how much economic havoc Hurricane Florence will inflict on the southeastern coast, from South Carolina through Virginia, the damage won’t be easily or quickly overcome. In those states, critically important industries like tourism and agriculture are sure to suffer. “These storms can be very disruptive to regional economies, and it takes time for them to recover,” said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP, File)

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    People line up outside a Home Depot for a new supply of generators and plywood in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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    The bronze statue of Neptune stands with the sunrise behind, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Virginia Beach, Va., as Hurricane Florence moves towards eastern shore. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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    Andrew Lingle walks along the beach at sunrise as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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    Rob Muller boards up his home as a satellite image of Hurricane Florence is broadcast on a television inside in Morehead City, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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    Gloria Pittman loads a box of bottled water into her grocery cart Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, while shopping for hurricane related supplies at Fred’s Food Club in Rocky Mount, N.C. (Alan Campbell/Rocky Mount Telegram via AP)

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    Emmett West pulls his boat from a nearby marina to secure it at his home ahead Hurricane Florence in Morehead City, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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    This enhanced satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence off the eastern coast of the United States on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 at 5:52 p.m. EDT. (NOAA via AP)

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    Utility trucks line up in a parking lot adjacent to Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, The trucks were staging prior to a trip to Wilmington, North Carolina, to help with power restoration efforts in the wake of Hurricane Florence. (AP Photo/Skip Foreman)

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    Jason Moore, of Raleigh, N.C., packs to evacuate from Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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    Phoebe Tesh takes a break from packing to evacuate from Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Published September 12. 2018 09:07PM

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — Hurricane Florence put a corridor of more than 10 million people in the crosshairs Wednesday as the monster storm closed in on the Carolinas, uncertainty over its projected path spreading worry across a widening swath of the Southeast.

Faced with new forecasts that showed a more southerly threat, Georgia’s governor joined his counterparts in Virginia and North and South Carolina in declaring a state of emergency, and some residents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes.

The National Hurricane Center’s best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.

Florence’s nighttime winds were down to 110 mph (175 kph) from a high of 140 mph (225 kph), and the Category 3 storm fell to a Category 2, with a further slow weakening expected as the storm nears the coast. But authorities warned it will still be an extremely dangerous hurricane.

“Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?” said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Tropical storm-force winds extended 195 miles (315 kilometers) from Florence’s center, and hurricane-force winds reached out 70 miles (110 kilometers).

The National Weather Service said 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches.

At the White House, President Donald Trump both touted the government’s readiness and urged people to get out of the way of Florence.

“Don’t play games with it. It’s a big one,” he said.

As of 11 p.m., the storm was centered 280 miles (455 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving northwest at 17 mph (28 kph). The hurricane center said Florence will approach the coast Friday and linger for a while before rolling ashore.

As of Tuesday, more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. Airlines had canceled nearly 1,000 flights and counting. Home Depot and Lowe’s activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks.

Duke Energy, the nation’s No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm’s aftermath, it said.

Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.

“In 12 or 18 hours, they may be saying different things all over again,” he said.

Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty. In contrast to the hurricane center’s official projection, a highly regarded European model had the storm turning southward off the North Carolina coast and coming ashore near the Georgia-South Carolina line.

Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.

“I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence,” Deal said.

The shift in the projected track spread concern to areas that once thought they were relatively safe. In South Carolina, close to the Georgia line, Beaufort County emergency chief Neil Baxley told residents they need to prepare again for the worst just in case.

“We’ve had our lessons. Now it might be time for the exam,” he said.

In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged people to remain away from home despite forecast changes showing Florence’s path largely missing the state.

Their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter’s one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle.

“We’re just trying to plan for the future here, not having a house for an extended period of time,” David Garrigus said.

Melody Rawson evacuated her first-floor apartment in Myrtle Beach and arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, to camp for free with three other adults, her disabled son, two dogs and a pet bird.

“We hope to have something left when we get home,” she said.

Forecasters worried the storm’s damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast. The trend is “exceptionally bad news,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it “smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge.”

With South Carolina’s beach towns more in the bull’s-eye because of the shifting forecast, Ohio vacationers Chris and Nicole Roland put off their departure from North Myrtle Beach to get the maximum amount of time on the sand. Most other beachgoers were long gone.

“It’s been really nice,” Nicole Roland said. “Also, a little creepy. You feel like you should have already left.”

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Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington; Jonathan Drew in Wilmington, North Carolina; Jennifer Kay in Miami; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina; Jeff Martin in Hampton, Georgia; David Koenig in Dallas; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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For the latest on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes .

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