OCRACOKE (AP) — North Carolina officials say coastal areas have yet to see the worst from Hurricane Dorian despite apparent tornadoes and heavy rains as the storm approaches from the south.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday urged residents “to stay in a safe place and off the roads” while conditions deteriorate from south to north through the night and Friday morning.
Cooper says tornadoes had already been reported in five counties, and 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain had fallen in parts of the county where Wilmington is located.
More than 2,200 people are staying in 65 shelters. Flash flooding is still a big concern, and there are more than 15 road closures. Major river flooding is predicted for a portion of the Northeast Cape Fear River.
State meteorologist Katie Webster says she expected conditions to improve rapidly by Friday afternoon as the storm passes.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has lifted the mandatory evacuation order for Jasper, Beaufort and Colleton counties.
During a briefing Thursday, McMaster urged residents who were returning to their homes to heed re-entry orders by sheriff’s offices and to use caution. He and other officials urged residents to avoid standing water, which might mask downed power lines or tree limbs, and to stay off the road unless absolutely necessary.
Evacuation orders remain for five other counties: Georgetown, Horry, Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester.
McMaster says Dorian remains “a very dangerous storm and it’s still impossible to predict where it will go.”
Forecasters say Hurricane Dorian is expected to slowly weaken as it travels near and along the coasts of South and North Carolina.
In its 5 p.m. advisory, the National Hurricane Center says Dorian has weakened slightly and remains a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (169 kph).
Its eye is located about 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and is moving northeast at about 10 mph (16 kph).
Forecasters expect Dorian’s eye to pass near or over parts of the North Carolina coast within the next 12 to 24 hours.
Members of the Rhode Island National Guard will be heading to the Bahamas to help with relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
State officials say the National Guard will mobilize three C-130J cargo aircraft that will depart from the Quonset Air National Guard Base on Friday.
Maj. Gen. Christopher Callahan says the Rhode Island National Guard has had a special connection with the Bahamas, through a training partnership with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force that began in 2005.
Dorian devastated parts of the Bahamas , where the government’s official death toll stands at 20 and is certain to climb. Thousands of people whose homes were destroyed are seeking help.
Hurricane Dorian is continuing to complicate air travel in the Southeast.
Airports in Wilmington and Florence, South Carolina, were expected to remain closed until Friday morning.
According to FlightAware, more than 500 U.S. flights were canceled by mid-afternoon Thursday, with the largest numbers in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia.
Airlines have already canceled more than 200 flights scheduled for Friday, especially in an area from Norfolk, Virginia, to Savannah.
TSA Acting Deputy Administrator Patricia Cogswell says the agency has 120 employees who can be sent to the region to help screen passengers and baggage once air travel begins to return to normal.