RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Hurricane Florence has gotten a little bit weaker but it remains a very large and dangerous storm.
At 2 p.m., the storm was centered 435 miles southeast of Wilmington, N.C., moving at 16 mph.
It's a potentially catastrophic Category 3 storm with 125 mph maximum sustained winds.
Some fluctuations in strength are expected through Thursday morning. Florence will weaken once it stops drawing energy from warm ocean waters, but it's still expected to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday as an extremely dangerous major hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center says a buoy about 100 miles northeast of Florence's eye has clocked hurricane-force wind gusts and sustained winds of 53 mph.
Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Communities along the Carolina coast buttoned up against the onslaught of Hurricane Florence as forecasters today warned the monstrous storm could hesitate just offshore for days – punishing a longer stretch of coastline than previously feared – before pushing its way inland.
The National Hurricane Center's projected track had Florence hovering off the southern North Carolina coast from Thursday night until landfall Saturday morning or so, about a day later than previously expected. The track also shifted somewhat south and west, throwing Georgia into peril as Florence moves inland.
The overall 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."
As of 8 a.m., Florence, a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm, was centered 530 miles southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., moving at 17 mph. It was packing winds of 130 mph and enough moisture to dump several feet of rain on the region.
With South Carolina's beach towns more in the bull's-eye, Ohio vacationers Chris and Nicole Roland were trying to time their evacuation from North Myrtle Beach to get the maximum amount of time on the sand. Most other beachgoers were long done.
"It's been really nice," Nicole Roland said. "Also, a little creepy. You feel like you should have already left."
"This is not going to be a glancing blow," Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned. "This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast."
While some said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings extending over the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the East Coast, many weren't taking any chances.
Steady streams of vehicles full of people and belongings flowed inland Tuesday as North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper tried to convince everyone on North Carolina's coast to flee.
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The Navy is moving people and ships ahead of Hurricane Florence , and the Air Force and Army are both flying advanced aircraft elsewhere as a safeguard. Some remaining Marines, meanwhile, are digging in their heels.
Florence is headed for a region with some of the most well-known military bases in the country, including Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island in South Carolina.
While thousands of Marines and their families have already left Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., the commanding general said Tuesday anyone remaining at the base would have food, water and protection despite being in the projected path of the storm.
"Since 1941, this base and its Marines have been postured to deal with crises at home and abroad and Hurricane Florence is no exception," said a message from Brig. Gen. Julian D. Alford.
Some military families and others took to Camp Lejeune's Facebook page, venting fears and questioning why there was no mandatory evacuation.
Nonessential personnel were released from duty at Lejeune and told they were free to relocate with their families to a site within a 500-mile radius of Jacksonville.
Nat Fahy, a spokesman for the command, said the base was the safest place for anyone who had not evacuated already. Shelters on the base are expected to open early Wednesday, he said, and there will be a full complement of resources for those sheltering in place.
Of the roughly 40,000 active duty troops at Lejeune, about three-quarters live off the base. Fahy did not know yet how many remained at the base.