As of 11 p.m., the storm was centered 280 miles east southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and was moving northwest at 17 mph, and this general motion, accompanied by a gradual decrease in forward speed, was expected to continue through Thursday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that storm surge watches and warnings are in effect Wednesday for the entire North Carolina coast and parts of SC. Parts of North Carolina could get 40 inches (1 meter) of rain.
"Although slow weakening is expected to begin by late Thursday, Florence is still forecast to be an extremely risky major hurricane when it nears the U.S. coast late Thursday and Friday".
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, concerned the storm would bring its devastation south, issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in his state.
On Thursday, as the middle schoolers and all other public school students throughout Sumter and 25 other counties had a hurricane-induced vacation from school - starting Tuesday and until further notice - Goldstein sent an email with photos of Florence, which Sumter School District posted on Facebook.
About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.
With 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.
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. "We just do a deep clean when they leave".
Make-up days will be designated at a later time, according to school officials.
"It's going to be bad", said Woody White, chairman of the New Hanover County Commissioners. "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".
Time is running short to get out of the way of Hurricane Florence, a monster of a storm that has a region of more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights as it zeroes in on the Southeastern coast. When Hurricane Floyd made landfall near Cape Fear in 1999 as a Category 2 storm, bloated carcasses of hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens and other drowned livestock bobbed in a nose-stinging soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline so toxic that fish flopped helplessly to escape it.
"A lot of our storefronts are boarded up", said Lynn Davis, town manager for Belhaven which sits at sea level in northeastern North Carolina.