The outer edge of Hurricane Florence began buffeting the Carolinas with wind and rain on Thursday as forecasters warned the monster storm would trigger life-threatening flooding as it assaults the United States east coast.
Tens of thousands of people are already without power.
The effects of Hurricane Florence can already be felt along the coast of North Carolina as of 12 p.m. on September 13. Heavy rainfall began after dark.
Gradually, Friday through the weekend (local time), the massive storm - containing a zone of tropical-storm-force winds almost 643km wide - will drift inland, engulfing much of SC and southern North Carolina.
As the storm continues toward Southeastern North Carolina, it will bring life-threatening storm surges, flooding and risky waves to the coast, the briefing said.
The bottom line is that damage from winds and the storm surge is likely to be more typical of past hurricanes, but the freshwater flooding still looks to create major property damage, which could lead to loss of life if residents haven't heeded the warnings of their local officials. Roy Cooper urged residents in evacuation areas of his state to get out while they still can. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill.
Florence has forced people to cut their holidays short along the coast, while the storm's projected path includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous pig farms that store animal waste in huge lagoons. Weather forecasters also warn that the threat of tornadoes is increasing as the system draws closer to land.
Meanwhile the hurricane is forecast to dump 1ft to 2ft 6in of rain that could cause flooding well inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and farms.
But the storm still carried "very risky winds", the Center added.
"We're a little anxious about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now", said Linda Smith, 67, a retired nonprofit director.
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The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as sluggish and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a year ago.
"3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico", Trump said on Twitter.
About midday on Thursday (local time), Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City.
"I'm staying. The building's solid and Buddha will protect us", she told AFP news agency. "Because it's Mother Nature".
The massive storm is larger than North Carolina and South Carolina - combined, according to South Carolina Emergency Management. That is enough water to fill the Empire State Building almost 40,000 times.
About 10 million people live in areas that have been under either hurricane or tropical storm warnings and watches.
She said a hurricane has a way of bringing everyone to the same level.
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Image: Waters come ashore in Avon, North Carolina. "But even worse than that is coming back in because you don't know what you're coming back to".
Duke Energy, a power company in the Carolinas, estimated that one million to three million customers could lose electricity because of the storm and that it could take weeks to restore.