Steve Harrigan Reports in Extreme Conditions in North Topsail Beach, NC

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Hurricane Florence has killed at least three people after it crashed on North Carolina's coast on Friday.

With the brunt of the storm yet to come, a gauge on the Neuse River in New Bern, a city near the coast, was already recording 10 feet (3 meters) of inundation, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Fortunately for House, he says this storm should not be a devastating event for the beach town in terms of loss of life.

By early afternoon, Florence's winds had weakened to 75 miles per hour, just barely a hurricane and well below the storm's terrifying Category 4 peak of 140 miles per hour earlier in the week.

"Some of the rainfall totals we're getting are already adding up to about 14 inches", NHC Director Ken Graham said shortly after 11 a.m. ET.

Forecasters said conditions will only get more lethal as the storm smashes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and crawls slowly inland. Tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles, the hurricane center said.

The center of the storm will make landfall near Wilmington early Friday morning.

Wind gusts of up to 100 miles per hour were reported at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, the hurricane center said.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, the center of Florence was 100 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 155 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been put under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders to avoid what emergency officials called a "once in a lifetime" storm.

A state of emergency has been declared in five coastal states - North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia.

Winds and rain were arriving later in SC, and a few people were still walking on the sand at Myrtle Beach while North Carolina was getting pounded.

With many employees at risk, Novartis said it has temporarily stopped pharmaceutical production at their Wilson, North Carolina site.

While the center of the storm appeared to take it away from Maryland's Atlantic coast and the Chesapeake Bay, a projection by the National Weather Service showed Florence curling northward up the Appalachian Mountain range after it moves inland over North and SC.

A warming climate also means that the atmosphere can hold more and more water vapor, fueling hurricanes with even more water that can fall on coastal areas. "This large-scale feature is expected to keep the hurricane moving northwestward today, followed by a turn toward the west at a much slower speed on Friday as the ridge to the north of Florence weakens due to a weak shortwave trough dropping slowly southward from the Ohio Valley".

More than 3,000 inmates at North Carolina prisons and juvenile detention centers were moved out of the storm's path.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than one million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.

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