The center of Florence, no longer classified as a major hurricane but still posing a grave threat to life and property, is expected to hit North Carolina's southern coast Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, enough time to drop feet of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Although Florence was still days from arrival, authorities took extraordinary measures to move people out of harm's way. Millions were expected to lose power, perhaps for weeks.
North Carolina has waived transportation rules to help farmers move crops and livestock ahead of the most severe storm to threaten the US mainland this year. That Category 4 storm destroyed 15,000 buildings and 19 people in North Carolina.
He cited forecasts showing Florence was likely to stall over North Carolina, "bringing days and days of rain". Highways will be converted to one-way evacuation routes away from the evacuation zones.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for both North Carolina and SC, freeing up federal money and resources for storm response. "A lot of local people are staying", she said of the island, which is reachable only by ferry or plane.
Coastal North Carolina felt the first bite of Hurricane Florence on Thursday as winds began to rise, a prelude to the slow-moving tempest that forecasters warned would cause catastrophic flooding across a wide swath of the USA southeast.
Forecasters with the NHC said that the hurricane would near Category 5 in strength - which is at the top of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale - by Tuesday afternoon.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service is providing regional-specific briefings on the expected impacts of Hurricane Florence.
Utilities deployed crews and gear in advance, with workers en route to the region from at least 15 states, according to trade group, the Edison Electric Institute.
Meteorologist's Reaction to Hurricane Florence: 'Wow'
Damaging winds, floods, high surf and storm surge are still possible. "Florence is a threat well beyond our coast", Cooper said. We encourage anyone in the path of these storms to prepare themselves and to heed the warnings of State and Local officials.
"In my area, we flooded in 2015".
Stewart added, "We're going to have a fairly stable, powerful hurricane with the potential for some additional slow strengthening over about the next 24 hours". A hospital in Hampton, Virginia, was transferring patients to safer places. "We want to make sure people understand that people should not ride Hurricane Florence out".
Trump also tweeted about Florence and the Carolinas after being briefed on the storm on Monday.
"We are sparing no expense". East Carolina officials say they had decided the team wouldn't travel to Blacksburg due to "significant imminent safety concerns", including "perilous travel conditions before, during and after the storm".
Last year, there were 17 named storms.
As mandatory evacuations begin for parts of three East Coast states, millions of Americans have been preparing for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades. This includes cities in the path of Florence such as Wilmington and Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia.
The auto park has been full for three days at the Ace Hardware store in coastal Calabash, North Carolina, where manager Tom Roberts said he sold 150 gas cans in two hours Monday, along with generators, plywood, rope, manual can openers, sand bags and a plethora of other items.
Residents prepared by boarding up their homes and stocking up on food, water and other essentials, stripping grocery store shelves of merchandise.