As Florence closed in, President Donald Trump and state and local officials urged residents in the path of the storm to evacuate before it was too late. But authorities warn Florence has an enormous wind field as it zeroes in on the Southeast U.S. coast, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land and making Florence extremely unsafe.
As of 2:00 am, the eye of the storm was 235 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving northwest at 17 mph.
Florence's top winds were clocked on Thursday evening at 90 miles per hour (150 km/h) as it churned in the Atlantic Ocean, down from a peak of 140 miles per hour (224 km/h) earlier this week when it was classified a Category 4 storm.
The National Hurricane Center warned the threat of tornadoes was increasing as Florence neared shore and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said the heavy rains could trigger landslides in the western part of his state.
A graphic of Hurricane Florence's path, generated today (Sept. 12) at 2 p.m. ET by the National Hurricane Center, shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow).
Tropical Storm Isaac remains at Tropical Storm intensity but is expected to gradually weaken in the next few days. Hurricane Florence deserves all the names it's being called as it threatens to cause historic flooding, blow catastrophic winds and idle for days over the Carolinas and the Mid-Atlantic.
"With Hurricane Florence, a lot of our line and equipment will be underwater".
"I've never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked", Epperson said.
Duke Energy, the second-largest energy company in the United States, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its four million customers in the Carolinas.
Computer simulations - especially the often star-performing European model - push the storm further south, even into SC and Georgia. Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.
"Hurricane Florence is a massive storm that's going to require a massive response", said Tim Pettit, a Duke Energy spokesperson.
The storm made landfall on Friday near Wilmington, a city of about 120,000 squeezed between North Carolina's Atlantic coastline and the Cape Fear River.
Melody Rawson evacuated her first-floor apartment in Myrtle Beach and arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, to camp for free with three other adults, her disabled son, two dogs and a pet bird.
"It was pitch black and I was just scared out of my mind", said Tracy Singleton, who with her family later drove through torrential rain and high winds from her home near New Bern.
Forecasters anxious the storm's damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast.
Overall, unsafe storm surge is possible all the way from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to the North Carolina/Virginia border. "Also, a little creepy".