(CBS News)- Hurricane Florence fast facts:
- Florence is a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm approaching the U.S. East Coast
- At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the storm was centered 485 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving at 15 mph
- Storm’s center will “approach the coast of North Carolina or South Carolina in the hurricane warning area on Thursday and Friday and move slowly near the coastline through Saturday,” National Hurricane Center says
- The track has shifted somewhat south and west, throwing Georgia into peril as Florence moves inland
- About 1.7 million people in North and South Carolina and Virginia were under warnings to evacuate the coast as of Tuesday; hurricane watches and warnings extended across an area with about 5.4 million residents
WILMINGTON, N.C. — Communities along the Carolina coast prepared for the onslaught of Hurricane Florence as forecasters Wednesday warned that 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.
On Wednesday afternoon, Georgia’s governor declared a state of emergency.
“In light of the storm’s forecasted southward track after making landfall, I encourage Georgians to be prepared for the inland effects of the storm as well as the ensuing storm surge in coastal areas,” said Gov. Nathan Deal.
No storm watches or warnings are in effect for Georgia. But forecasters said there is an increased chance for tropical storm winds to reach Savannah.
“On the forecast track, the center of Florence will move over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas today, and approach the coast of North Carolina or South Carolina in the hurricane warning area on Thursday and Friday and move slowly near the coastline through Saturday,” the center said late Wednesday morning.
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.”