- Wednesday, September 12, 2018 9:18 PM
Washington, 12 September 2018 (MIA) - US East Coast residents are running out of time to flee before Hurricane Florence hits the region as soon as Thursday evening, officials warn.
The storm has been downgraded to category three with 125mph (205km/h) winds, but officials say it is still "extremely dangerous".
Up to 1.7 million people have been ordered to evacuate across South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, the BBC reports.
Four South Carolina motorways have been diverted one-way to speed the exodus.
On Wednesday, Georgia declared a state of emergency, following the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC.
A National Weather Service forecaster said: "This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast.
"And that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd and Matthew.
"I can't emphasise enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge and inland flooding with this storm."
Jeff Byard, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said: "This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast."
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned that "disaster is at the doorstep", and "tens of thousands" of buildings may be flooded.
Waves 83ft (25m) tall were recorded at sea on Wednesday morning.
But while many coastal residents have complied with mandatory evacuation orders, others are boarding up their homes and vowing to ride out the storm.
In a video posted to his Twitter account on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump warned residents in Florence's bullseye to heed official warnings.
"Get out of its way, don't play games with it," said Trump. "It's a big one, maybe as big as they've seen, and tremendous amounts of water."
"Bad things can happen when you are talking about a storm this size. It's called Mother Nature. You never know, but we know. We love you all, we want you safe."
Forecasters say the storm poses such a threat because it is expected to slow down and hover for nearly two days over the Carolina coast, before dipping south towards Georgia.
It is forecast to bring 20-40in (50-100cm) of rain and life-threatening storm surges of up to 13ft.
Hurricane force winds will emanate up to 70 miles from the centre of the storm, say meteorologists.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that waterways up to 40 miles inland may flood.
Graham said the Pamlico and Neuse rivers in North Carolina will see their flows "reversed" as storm surges push water back inland.
He added that half of fatalities during hurricanes are caused by storm surges, and another quarter of deaths are due to inland rains and flooding. lk/21:18
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