Emergency preparations in the area included setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so that all major roads led away from shore and getting 16 nuclear reactors ready in the three-state region for the storm.
Updated NHC forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast, bringing days of heavy rains that could bring intense inland flooding from SC, where some areas could see as much as one metre of rain, to Virginia.
A view of Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station.
As of Tuesday, about 1.7 million people in North and SC and Virginia were under warnings to evacuate the coast, and hurricane watches and warnings extended across an area with about 5.4 million residents.
Governor Nathan Deal has issued a state of emergency for the state of Georgia ahead Florence making landfall.
"While some weakening is expected to begin by late Thursday, Florence is still forecast to be an extremely unsafe major hurricane when it nears the US coast on Friday", the NHC said in an 11 a.m. "Finally, I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence".
Florence's winds in the afternoon were down slightly to 125 miles per hour (205 kph), from a high of 140 miles per hour, and the Category 4 storm fell to a Category 3. Rather than pushing up toward western Virginia, the storm's center is now predicted to move across the middle of SC.
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Rain projections also increased, with some locations along the North Carolina coast now expected to get up to 40 inches. The meteorological service of Antigua and Barbuda has issued a Tropical Storm Watch for Antigua and Montserrat.
"Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles (110 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (280 km)". Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.
"This is not going to be a glancing blow", warned Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter's one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte.
"It's been really nice", Nicole Roland said.
"This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding", the hurricane center says. "Everyone was sold out", she said.
"We're just trying to plan for the future here, not having a house for an extended period of time", David Garrigus said. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.