Oklahoma search and rescue helicopter team leaves for Hurricane Florence

Alexander Gerst  TwitterEver stared down the gaping eye of a category 4 hurricane? It's chilling even from space. #HurricaneFlorence #Horizons

Alexander Gerst TwitterEver stared down the gaping eye of a category 4 hurricane? It's chilling even from space. #HurricaneFlorence #Horizons

Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm but it is still considered an extremely unsafe and life-threatening storm.

The images, captured from249 miles above the storm, captured Florence as it draws close to North Carolina's coast.

Florence's top sustained wind speeds dropped from a high of 140mph to 110mph which reduced the hurricane's power from Category 4 to Category 2.

Large and risky, Hurricane Florence is drawing closer to the coast of the Carolinas, where it threatens to become the most intense storm to strike the region in at least 25 years, since Hugo.

"Heed the warnings", said Byard, adding there was "well over $20 billion" in FEMA's disaster relief fund.

"It's chilling, even from space", said Alexander Gerst, an astronaut with the European Space Agency who now lives on ISS, on Twitter.

The storm's first casualties included a mother and her baby, who died when a tree fell on their brick house in Wilmington, North Carolina.

A search-and-rescue team is being deployed by FEMA from Montgomery County in Maryland to help in SC as the area braces for Hurricane Florence.

Up to 1.7 million people are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders, and coastal residents were frantically boarding up homes and businesses and hitting the road on Wednesday as the storm approached.

About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million more live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.

Images captured with a wide-angle lens on board the Space Station have shown the mind-boggling scale of Hurricane Florence as it nears America's East Coast. With Hurricane Florence set to wallop the area as a Category 4 hurricane, there are fears the ponds could overflow or even collapse amid extremely heavy rain, sending vast amounts of manure from thousands of farms into rivers and contaminating groundwater.

President Donald Trump has declared states of emergency for North and SC and Virginia, which frees up the way for federal aid.

After landfall, Florence slowed to a pace that would see the system likely lingering for days.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said, "This hurricane is bringing more rain than any other hurricane", according to SCETV.

News that the storm could plow through SC after landfall came shortly after McMaster lifted his mandatory-evacuation order for Beaufort County and many other areas south of Charleston.

The NHC said Helene was weakening, however, and posed no danger to land. She said a hurricane has a way of bringing everyone to the same level.

Its surge of ocean water could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 13 feet, and days of downpours could unload more than three feet of rain, touching off severe flooding. The storm's forecast has shifted southward in the last 24 hours.

Authorities, including President Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are urging residents in the Carolinas as well as parts of Virginia and Georgia to evacuate as the storm continues its path.

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