Reports out of Wilmington, North Carolina, said that the outer bands of wind and rain from Florence, a Category 2 storm with 105 miles per hour winds, are hitting North Carolina.
Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and risky. The port city of Wilmington woke Friday to the sound of exploding electrical transformers with strong gusts throwing street signs and other debris as well as water in all directions, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Ken Graham, the NHC's director, warned the slow pace of the storm exacerbated its danger even to areas outside its immediate path. After criticism for its response in Puerto Rico to last year's Hurricane Maria, which officials there said was responsible for 3,000 deaths, Trump has vowed a vigorous response to Florence and defended his handling of Maria.
More than 12,000 people were in shelters in North Carolina and 400 in Virginia, where the forecast was less dire.
Cooper said 108 shelters are open across the state, with more than 7,000 people already staying at them, as of Thursday afternoon.
Jamie Thompson walks through flooded sections of East Front Street near Union Point Park in New Bern, N.C. Forecasters said conditions will deteriorate throughout Friday.
Forecasters said conditions will deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.
Wareheim was preparing for the heaviest winds from Florence, whose center was about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from his house about 4 miles (6 kilometers) inland.
The storm has sustained wind speeds of 90 miles per hour, and a total of 40 inches of rain could fall over the next few days, according to the National Hurricane Center. North of the landfall, another 150 people near the town of New Bern required rescue from floods along the Neuse River.
By late Thursday afternoon, the Carolina coasts can expect winds topping 80 miles per hour.
But North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent. We will have catastrophic effects".
Structures, such as this one in Swansboro, collapsed as the storm surge and hurricane force winds whipped through the area.
Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticised as slow and unprepared a year ago for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Florence is expected to bring heavy rains to North and SC as well as Georgia.
The worst of the storm's fury had yet to reach coastal SC, where emergency managers said people could still leave flood-prone areas.
Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather with his dog Canelo.
"When that last ferry pulls out.it's unnerving to see it pull away and know, 'That's the last chance I have of getting off this island, '" she said Wednesday. "I learned from the past to keep the ice in the washing machine".
"On a scale of one to 10, I'm probably a seven in terms of worry, she said".