Hurricane Florence, growing in size despite its weakening winds on Wednesday, crept closer to the US East Coast as disaster mobilizations expanded south from the Carolinas into Georgia to counter the deadly threat of high seas and floods. The center of Florence, no longer classified as a major hurricane but still posing a grave threat to life and property, is expected to strike North Carolina's southern coast on Friday, then drift southwest along the shoreline before moving inland on Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami. The storm's maximum sustained winds were clocked late on Wednesday at 110 miles per hour (175 kph), down from a peak of 140 mph a day earlier, before it was downgraded to a Category 3, then a Category 2, on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of wind strength. Besides inundating the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet (4 meters) along the Carolina coast, Florence could dump 20 to 30 inches (51-76 cm) of rain, with up to 40 inches in parts of North Carolina, the NHC said. Downpours and flooding would be especially severe, lasting for days, if the storm stalls over land. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia. By late Wednesday, authorities in North Carolina reported nearly 7,000 evacuees staying in 71 emergency shelters throughout the state. Emergency preparations included activating more than 2,700 National Guard troops, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so major roads led away from shore, and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the Carolinas and Virginia. The US Coast Guard said it closed the ports of Wilmington and Moorehead City in North Carolina and restricted port operations in Charleston, South Carolina. All seven of North Carolina's ferry routes were shut down. Utility officials have warned that widespread power outages are likely and that it could take weeks to restore electricity.