Tropical-storm-force winds, caused by hurricane Florence, are moving onshore of the outer banks of North Carolina with continued expectations of life-threatening storm surge and rainfall, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest advisory on Thursday.
Hurricane Florence's top sustained wind speeds dropped from a high of 140 miles per hour (225 kilometres per hour) to 110 mph (175 kph) as its outer rain bands approached the North Carolina coast early Thursday, reducing the storm from Category 4 to Category 2.
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.
The center of Florence is expected to approach the coasts of the Carolinas today and move over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern SC tonight and Friday.
This same zone will be hammered by winds gusting up to hurricane force for almost a day while tropical-storm conditions could linger twice that long.
Cooper and his SC counterpart, Henry McMaster, told the more than 1 million people who have been told to leave that if they don't, they are on their own.
The full force of Hurricane Florence is expected to hit on Friday.
The result: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farm fields and industrial sites.
Evacuation orders are in place in Virginia and the Carolinas, and about 10 million people are under some kind of weather warning. If you're heading to the beach just be careful of some rip currents and rough surf along the south facing coasts.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 miles per hour, but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet (3.4 meters) of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet (0.9 meters) of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Many businesses are closed and boarded up particularly in the Carolinas which are facing the most serious
President Donald Trump both touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way. "Don't play games with it".
"We live in a house that's more than 100 years old", she said.
A flight-tracking service says about 1,200 USA airline flights scheduled for Thursday or Friday have been canceled, with some airports in the Carolinas essentially shut down. American, Delta, Southwest, United, and others will likely be canceling hundred more flights through the weekend. Home Depot and Lowe's activated emergency response centres and sent in around 1,100 trucks to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. "Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks". "We go through a lot of these hurricane scares throughout the years", Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said.
Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.
The monster storm - which briefly flirted with category five status on its march across the Atlantic - was located roughly 170 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina as of 8:00 a.m. EDT Thursday.
Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty and storm stress.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency "in light of the storm's forecasted southward track after making landfall".
As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are "supplied and ready", and he disputed the official conclusion that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad.
But the hurricane's sheer size meant it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day, according to weather forecasters.
With their entire neighbourhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter's one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte.