"Life-threatening" Hurricane Florence edged closer to the east coast of the United States on Thursday, with tropical-force winds and rain already lashing barrier islands just off the North Carolina mainland.
Hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles from its centre, and tropical storm force winds reached up to 195 miles from the eye.
On the forecast track, the center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC later today, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and northeastern SC in the hurricane warning area tonight and Friday. The Outer Banks are experiencing wind gusts over 30 miles per hour and rain from the outermost bands has begun to fall in coastal areas of both North and SC. Then it is likely to hover along the coast Saturday, pushing up to 11 feet (3.3 meters) of storm surge and unloading water on both states.
A few tornadoes are possible in eastern North Carolina through Friday.
While Hurricane Florence's top wind speeds have come down, and it seems as though conditions are improving, stop that thinking: The threat for life-threatening storm surge remains all too real. "At this time, we are fully focused on preparing for, responding to, and recovering from Hurricane Florence and the storms in the Pacific", DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton told Politico in a statement.
SC ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents while North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination.
A state of emergency has been declared North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland and residents are on a race against time to evacuate areas at high risk of devastation.
The result could be what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago - catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, fields and industrial sites.
Airlines cancelled about 1,200 flights and counting, and some airports in the Carolinas virtually shut down.
However, forecasters say the storm's biggest threat is how much rain it is expected to produce.
All four major USA airlines have said they are capping selected airfares below what last-minute tickets would cost.
The Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, and Maryland all declared a state of emergency ahead of the deadly storm with millions of people evacuating North and SC.
Tropical-force winds extend 200 miles from the middle of the storm, meaning coastal North Carolina is already feeling their power.
The White House said on Friday that President Donald Trump would travel to the region next week unless his trip would disrupt clean-up and rescue efforts.
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.
Florence is expected to produce heavy and excessive rainfall in southeastern coastal North Carolina into northeastern SC. "It is imperative that everyone follow local evacuation orders".
A hurricane watch is in effect for Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC.
A hurricane warning is in effect for South Santee River in SC to Duck in North Carolina, and the hurricane warning is in effect for the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.
"It doesn't matter how much money you have or how many generators you have if you can't get gas", she said.