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Still dangerous Florence weakens from hurricane to tropical storm: forecasters

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Wilmington (United States) (AFP)

US authorities on Friday downgraded Florence from a hurricane to a tropical storm, as the still dangerous weather system unleashed torrential rains but saw its wind power weaken slightly.

As of 5:00 pm (2100 GMT) Florence was producing tropical storm-strength winds of 70 miles (110 kilometers) an hour, while it lashed the Carolinas with heavy rains and threatened deadly flash flooding.

As of Friday afternoon the storm had already claimed four lives, including a mother and her baby who were killed when a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Despite the downgrade the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that "life-threatening storm surges" would continue into the night, predicting "catastrophic freshwater flooding" over parts of North and South Carolina.

In some areas of southeastern North Carolina officials had measured rainfall totals exceeding 16 inches (41 centimeters), warning that some areas could see totals up to 40 inches.

"This storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said. "The storm is wreaking havoc on our state."

Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), had hours earlier warned that "24 to 36 hours remain for significant threats" from heavy rain, storm surge and flooding.

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