Florence, which is now a slow-moving Category 2 storm, is expected to linger over the Carolinas before turning north and sliding into western Virginia.
Ocean water breeched to the dunes in Avon, N.C., as the first effects of Hurricane Florence reached Hatteras Island on Thursday. As it turns into southern SC.
Hurricane Florence is now a category 2 hurricane, with winds of close to 110mph (177km/h).
Florence's nighttime winds were down to 110 miles per hour from a high of 140 miles per hour, and the Category 3 storm fell to a Category 2, with a further slow weakening expected as the storm nears the coast. The National Hurricane Center says it's now expected to hit Wilmington and then veer west, taking it south of Charlotte.
The coastal area of SC features hundreds of inlets while North Carolina has barrier islands miles away from the mainland.
The center of the storm was 105 miles east/southeast of Wilmington, according to FEMA's 3 p.m. update.
The US Coast Guard said it closed the ports of Wilmington and Moorehead City in North Carolina and restricted port operations in Charleston, South Carolina.
By the time the storm leaves the region, forecasters expect it to drop 50 to 75 centimeters (19-30 inches) of rain in coastal areas, with some parts capable of receiving up to 100 centimeters (40 inches).
"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", the briefing said. Operations at airports along the Carolina coastline have also been suspended.
Almost 2 million coastal residents are now under mandatory evacuation orders, although it remains unclear how many have actually done so. "Your time is running out". Regardless of whether a system forms, they say heavy rain and gusty winds are likely along the Texas and Louisiana coast later this week.
"I'm staying. The building's solid and Buddha will protect us", she told AFP news agency.
HO/AFP/Getty Images In this September 12, 2018 photo provided by NASA, hurricane Florence churns over the Atlantic Ocean heading for the USA east coast as seen from the International Space Station. In Virginia, 245,000 coastal residents were ordered to evacuate.
A state of emergency has also been declared in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington.
The hurricane center is forecasting the storm to hover near the coast on Saturday with winds of around 130 kph before landfall, but with rainfall ranging from 50 to 75 centimeters and up to 4 meters of storm surge.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 160 kmh, but that's still enough to cause at least US$1 billion in damage. "The infrastructure is going to break".
Not everybody was heeding orders to evacuate, however.
Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, the company said.
New Hanover County officials said Thursday morning that it could accept more residents seeking shelter at Trask Middle School, Eaton Elementary School, Codington Elementary School, the Johnson Pre-K Center and Noble Middle School. "I'm not leaving him here".