More than 10 million people are under watches and warnings, the Associated Press reported.
The slow forward motion means Florence will batter the area with heavy rainfall, producing up to 40 inches in coastal North Carolina and northeastern SC. "Disaster is at the doorstep and it's coming in". "If you are on the coast, there is still time to get out safely". "Now it might be time for the exam", Baxley said late in the morning.
Hurricane Helene is moving north, where it's expected to become a tropical storm Thursday.
Storm surge can be the deadliest part of a hurricane, and is only partially affected by wind speeds. Up to 35 inches of rain could fall through early next week over parts of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states.
Hurricane Florence on Wednesday night weakened to a Category 2 storm over the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds of about 175 km per hour, authorities said.
CAROLINA BEACH, North Carolina (CNN) - Officials in the potential path of a still fierce Hurricane Florence had a stern, clear message for people still in coastal towns under evacuation orders.
Governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have already declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm, joined by Washington D.C. mayor on Tuesday. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal followed suit on Wednesday. "The global models suggest that this shear will relax today while Florence moves over warm waters, however, given the current storm structure, little overall change in strength is anticipated as Florence approaches the coast".
The hurricane center also said the threat of tornadoes was increasing as the storm neared shore.
The National Hurricane Center or NHC noted that hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 80 miles (130 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles (315 km).
President Donald Trump said there was nothing to fear because his administration did such good work responding to last year's storms - including Hurricane Maria, which killed 3,000 people in Puerto Rico.
It is an "absolutely a personal decision" to stay or go, Lori Crouch, a spokesperson for the city said.
At Nags Head on North Carolina's Hatteras Island, only a few people remained to take photos of angry waves topped with white froth.
As of 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, 862 flights had been canceled in the US and 11,917 flights across the globe were delayed, as per live flight-tracking service FlightAware. He adds, "Businesses in Myrtle Beach are to have operations ceased and secured by 5 this afternoon".
The list of canceled football games included No. 13 Virginia Tech's home game against East Carolina, No. 14 West Virginia's trip to North Carolina State and No. 18 UCF's visit to North Carolina.
Officials in New Hanover County, which includes Wilmington, have stockpiled enough food and water for 60,000 people for four days, along with more than 28,000 tarps. Thinking of the outages likely to come, it also warns to use grills and generators outside - away from doors and windows.
Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.
This satellite image of Florence hurtling towards the east coast on Wednesday gives a sense of its massive scale.
NHC tropical cyclone forecast track for Hurricane Florence 11 a.m. EDT Thursday. 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.
Florence is moving slowly, about 12 miles per hour (19 km/h) on a meandering track along the coast.
The slow movement, combined with the massive amount of moisture this storm holds, will bring unsafe rains - from 20 to 30 inches in coastal North Carolina and 40 inches possible in isolated areas, the weather service says. North Carolina alone could get from 20 to 30 inches, with isolated spots possibly receiving 40 inches.
Florence, one of the strongest storms on the Eastern Seaboard in decades, is a strong Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 miles per hour. "This is not going to be a glancing blow", Byard explained.
The East Coast isn't the only area facing the brunt of a storm.
An additional 25 percent of deaths are related to rain, he said.
Wind and the tidal surge will be the biggest issues for airports in the coastal Carolinas, FlightAware's Orsi said.
"There's a very real possibility it could be that bad, so we will wait to see what happens", she said. "You can't stop Mother Nature". You never know. But we know.