"This storm will bring destruction", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said. Cooper pointed out that people won't be putting their own life at risk if they stick around, but also the lives of first responders who may be called on to rescue them.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm's strength should continue through Thursday.
"These bays, these rivers and these inlets, there's so much storm surge the water is being literally forced to flow the opposite direction", Graham said.
"It's just going to be an interesting ride", Needham said. "Flooding is nearly guaranteed".
The outer edge of Hurricane Florence began buffeting the Carolinas with wind and rain on Thursday (Sep 13) as forecasters warned the monster storm would dump copious amounts of rain on the US East Coast and cause life-threatening flooding.
Hurricane Florence's leading edge is battering the Carolina coast, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets, as the hulking storm closes in with 160kph winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend.
The coastal surge from Florence could leave the eastern tip of North Carolina under more than 9ft of water in spots, projections showed. It's expected to make landfall later today. "If this blows at 120 mph for four hours, ... you lose a shingle every two minutes, and all of the sudden, you've lost your whole roof after four hours", CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
The storm's winds may have weakened in recent days - they are now at 110mph (175km/h) - but there are fears Florence's slow-moving nature could bring different problems.
According to CNN, Florence's center will approach the coasts of North and SC late Thursday and Friday, with the actual landfall expected to come on Friday afternoon. When and where it will make landfall is unclear.
He said hurricane-force winds extend outward 80 miles from the center of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extend almost 200 miles out.
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Because the storm was so strong earlier in the week, it built up a wall of water which will push inland as the storm surge. NASA also recorded what it called "stark and sobering" video footage of Florence from the space station on Wednesday.
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McMaster told residents in some counties that emergency responders will be pulled from areas expected to be hit hard. "It's chilling, even from space", he tweeted. It was moving 10 miles per hour toward the Port City, the advisory said. "But no matter how bad it's going to be, it will pass and our job will be to rebuild this community together, and that's what we're going to do".
"It's all going to be predicated on where the damage is at, in terms of how and where we deploy our resources", said Penn.
People on barrier islands or peninsulas were running out of time Wednesday to retreat by bridge or ferry.
Bertha Bradley said she has never favored evacuating ahead of hurricanes.
Avair Vereen, 39, took her seven children to a shelter in Conway High School.
There was also concern over crops.
Solange Iliou Thompson, a restaurant owner in the town of Wilmington, North Carolina, made her stance clear.
The contraflow will end Thursday at noon on 501 and at 6 p.m. on I-26.
Duke Energy serves 4 million people in the Carolinas.
Winds and rain were arriving later in SC, and a few people were still walking on the sand at Myrtle Beach while North Carolina was getting pounded. It urged residents to heed evacuation orders.
The News & Observer reports that the storm's path shifted early Wednesday and it is now bearing down on southern North Carolina and northern SC, where it could dump up to 40 inches of rain in places.