Florence moves slowly, but it's still big and dangerous

Though weakened, Florence remained a very large, slow and dangerous storm as it swirled over the Carolinas.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence's top sustained winds were holding at 45 mph, (75 kph), with higher gusts east of the storm's centre.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, Florence was inching west at 3 mph, (6 kph), with its centre located about 50 miles, (85 kilometres), west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Forecasters said prolonged rainfall from Florence could produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding.

Tropical storm-force winds stretched up to 150 miles, (240 kph), from the storm's centre.

A mandatory evacuation order was put in place for anyone who lives within a mile of the banks of North Carolina's Cape Fear River and Little River.

Officials from Cumberland County, Fayetteville and the town of Wade issued the order early Saturday afternoon, saying residents there faced 
"imminent danger'' from flood waters expected to arrive in the area soon.

Residents were asked to leave immediately. 

Officials said flood waters from other areas are accumulating north of the county and filling the river basins beyond their capacities. 

They asked that the evacuation begin immediately and that everyone within the evacuation areas get out by 3 p.m. Sunday.

Seven emergency shelters were open in the county.
 
Officials in South Carolina, meantime, reported the state's first fatality due to Florence, bringing the storm's overall death toll to at least five.

A 61-year-old woman was killed late Friday when the vehicle she was driving struck a tree that had fallen across Highway 18 near the town of Union.

 

- With files from The Associated Press