The Latest: Florence Now Category 3 Storm, Still ‘Dangerous’

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Florence (all times local):

2:25 p.m.

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 (700 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving at 16 mph (26 kph).

It’s a potentially catastrophic Category 3 storm with 125 mph (205 kph) 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 (85 kph).

Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.

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1:15 p.m.

Mississippi is sending National Guard members and search-and-rescue workers to areas affected by Hurricane Florence.

Two swift-water rescue teams including local firefighters from 22 communities have gone to Virginia to help with rescue operations in case of flooding.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Greg Michel says Virginia is paying for the deployments under an interstate emergency-assistance compact. The Mississippi Office for Homeland Security says teams arrived Wednesday in the Virginia towns of Dublin and Pulaski.

Soldiers based in Meridian, Mississippi, will provide airlift support for relief after the storm using two CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Members of the Mississippi Air National Guard are deploying to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to help with relief planning and coordination.

More than 60 people are participating in the deployments.

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1:15 p.m.

A program that provides health care benefits to military families and retirees is making it easier to get care during evacuations related to Hurricane Florence.

The Defense Health Agency announced in a new release on Wednesday that it is waiving referral requirements for TRICARE beneficiaries under mandatory evacuation orders in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

TRICARE says this means beneficiaries from 40 counties in those states may see a provider in any location without a referral from their primary care provider.

The waiver is in effect until Sept. 21. TRICARE says it has about 1.5 million beneficiaries in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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12:55 p.m.

Georgia’s governor has declared a state of emergency for all 159 counties as forecasters now say Hurricane Florence could take a southwest turn.

In a news release Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal says the state “is mobilizing all available resources to ensure public safety ahead of Hurricane Florence.”

Deal’s declaration Wednesday covers comes as the National Weather Service’s storm forecast shows a chance that Florence’s track might turn toward the southwest as it approaches the Carolinas later this week.

No storm watches or warnings are in effect for Georgia. But forecasters say there’s an increased chance for tropical storm winds to reach Savannah.

Deal’s emergency declaration cited potential “changes in the storm’s trajectory” as well as an influx of evacuees coming to Georgia from the Carolinas. The order eases regulations on trucks hauling gasoline and relief supplies into Georgia.

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