Although Florence has been downgraded from a category four to a category two storm, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent". Its maximum sustained winds dropped slightly from 110 miles per hour earlier Thursday to 105 miles per hour, but the storm remains a Category 2 hurricane that is expected to cause widespread catastrophic damage.
In the tiny community of Sea Breeze near Wilmington, Roslyn Fleming, 56, made a video of the inlet where her granddaughter was baptized because "I just don't think a lot of this is going to be here" later.
Forecasters also say the storm surge - or wall of water - that the hurricane's winds and forward movement push on shore, could cause normally dry areas to be flooded by up to 4 meters of water moving inland.
Hurricane Florence will be one of the biggest storms to make landfall along the United States eastern seaboard in decades. The storm was a unsafe Category 4 hurricane Wednesday but has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center says "a life-threatening storm surge is now likely" along the North and SC coasts as Hurricane Florence approaches the US eastern seaboard.
Hurricane Florence carries a heavy risk of flash floods as it brings up to 13-foot storm surge and a possible 40 inches of rain to the Carolina coast.
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US President Donald Trump touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way. "Don't play games with it".
Hurricane Florence is at the doorstep of North and SC, and she's not going away anytime soon.
"We expected it to strengthen and then as it approached the coast to weaken somewhat", Abrams says.
More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia.
More than 1,200 USA airline flights scheduled for Thursday and Friday have been canceled, according to the flight-tracking service FlightAware.
Home Depot and Lowe's activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm.
A power outage model run at the University of MI projects that 3.2 million customers will be without electricity because of the storm, mostly in the eastern half of North Carolina. Some 3,000 people died in the aftermath of that storm.
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Despite pleas from state and local officials, some residents rejected calls to evacuate.
That said, the storm is still expected to stall once it hits the Wilmington coast, with weather officials early Thursday raising the expected total rainfall for Wilmington to 35 inches - weather officials had predicted 30 inches for Wilmington in briefings released Wednesday.
Forecasters anxious the storm's damage would be all the worse if it lingered on the coast.
The latest rainfall projections warn of 20-40 inches of rain from coastal North Carolina into northeastern SC - amounts that could bring "catastrophic flash flooding", the hurricane center said. Most other beachgoers were long gone. "Also, a little creepy".
"It's been really nice", Nicole Roland said.
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