Aiken County and city officials held meetings Thursday to discuss the potential impacts of Hurricane Florence.

"We got our update from state emergency management and the National Weather Center," Aiken County Sheriff's Office Capt. Eric Abdullah said.

Aiken may experience rain, flooding and gusting winds, Abdullah said.

Aiken schools have closed again due to Hurricane Florence's unpredictable, erratic track through the Carolinas. 

Aiken County public schools, USC Aiken and Aiken Tech have cancelled classes for Friday, though offices at the schools will remain open. Fox Creek High will have an early release at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, and Edgefield County Schools will run on a half-day schedule.

Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said the city is fully prepared for a 48-hour storm and resultant damage.

The public safety, public services, engineering and utilities departments have all been briefed and are ready for the storm, Bedenbaugh said. Generators are on standby, spare parts have been purchased, vehicles and equipment have been topped off with fuel, damage mitigation and assessment teams have been formed, and storm drains have been inspected.

City-owned space has been cleared, as well, for debris collection, Bedenbaugh noted.

The city manager attended a briefing Thursday morning with the National Weather Service.

"We do get briefed twice a day by the National Weather Service, and we'll continue to get regular briefings during the duration of the weather event," Bedenbaugh said.

Florence is expected to bring torrential rainfall to parts of of the Carolinas. Bedenbaugh said Aiken will see 3-6 inches of rain, but the exact amount may vary.

Closures may occur in Hitchcock Woods this weekend due to possible flooding from the storm.

"The Hitchcock Woods Foundation is monitoring the weather and contemplating potential Woods closures in association with Hurricane Florence," Christine Rolka said. "Please pay attention to our media outlets for updates."

Hurricane Florence was downgraded to a Category 2 storm with winds of of 100 miles per hour as of NOAA's 5 p.m. update. The storm was starting to come near shore about 75 miles from Wilmington, North Carolina.

During a press conference Thursday afternoon, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and other state officials said Florence's downgrade to a Category 2 was "good news" but warned that hazards from the storm still exist.

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Chaplain prayer at Florence update

Gov. Henry McMaster's update Thursday on the state's preparations for Hurricane Florence began with Army National Guard Chaplain John Denny leading a prayer for people's safety. It was the first time this week's briefings began with a prayer.

"Heavy rain potential will persist into Monday and flash flooding is likely," said John Quagliariello, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at NSW Columbia. "…A threat of isolated tornadoes also exists as Florence shifts across the state."

Quagliariello said damaging winds could "spread inland across much of the state" on Friday following Florence's landfall.

McMaster said over 421,000 people were evacuated from the coast, and noted it may take time for people to return to their homes due to potential hazards cause by storm damage.

"The bridges may be overrun, there may be debris on those bridges, power lines may be down," McMaster warned. "…As I mentioned, power will be out for a long time."

At the press conference, it was announced that lane reversals would soon be ended and roads would return to their usual routes.

Staff writer Colin Demarest contributed to this report.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.