The Hurricane Center forecasts that Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC later on Thursday, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern SC on Thursday night and Friday. Storm surge flooding also could push 2 miles or more inland if Florence lingers for days along the coast. The National Weather Service said about 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches. "Our greatest concern about this storm remains the same - storm surge and massive flooding", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said in a tweet. Its forward movement slowed to 12 miles per hour (19 kph) and top sustained winds stayed at 110 miles per hour (175 kph).
Winds and waves began battering the Carolinas on Thursday as officials warned that Hurricane Florence - while weakening slightly - remains a "very risky storm" capable of wreaking havoc along a wide swathe of the US East Coast.
Even if Florence were downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, it would still cause extensive damage, Abrams says.
More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm approached, and more than 12,000 were in shelters.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference, that a "historic storm" would unleash rains and floods that would inundate nearly the entire state. "Today the threat becomes a reality", he said. Tropical storm force winds extend up to 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the center.
Some Florence evacuees are steering toward Bristol Motor Speedway near the Tennessee-Virginia border and Atlanta Motor Speedway, where campgrounds have been opened for people fleeing the storm.
Schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia, airlines canceled more than 1,500 flights, and coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely emptied out.
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Duke Energy said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.
"I was feeling fine until I woke up this morning and this is a ghost town", said Kristin Beard, a 40-year-old Myrtle Beach marketer.
Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the storm with his dog Canelo.
Hurricane Florence has weakened slightly to a Category 2 storm, but don't be fooled, it's still incredibly unsafe.
Anxious about how the government will respond to Hurricane Florence's devastation?
The police chief of a barrier island in Florence's approach said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster because of human-caused climate change. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks. "I've got four cats inside the house".