Large and unsafe, Hurricane Florence is drawing closer to the coast of the Carolinas, where it threatens to become the most intense storm to strike the region in at least 25 years, since Hugo.
But despite the drop in wind strength, the most risky threat comes from Florence's rains and storm surge, which could bring flooding far inland. "Today the threat becomes a reality". But Florence will still bring gusts that are much more powerful. "We're still going to have a Category 4 storm surge", CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
We are holding out hope for all of those who are in the path of the storm, but for any of you who aren't convinced that Florence has the potential to be deadly, then look no further than this live streaming video from the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, where the sky has darkened and the waves are crashing violently. "But even worse than that is coming back in because you don't know what you're coming back to".
The hurricane centre also said the threat of tornadoes was increasing as Florence neared shore and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said the heavy rains could trigger landslides in the western part of his state.
By early evening, almost 70,000 residents were without electricity, according to North Carolina Emergency Management.
Duke Energy, the nation's No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.
Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.
More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate - but the window to do so in nearly over.
At the 500-acre North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, workers shepherded a menagerie including elephants, giraffes and chimpanzees indoors, forming a sort of modern-day, stationary Noah's Ark to ride out the flood.
Zookeepers and veterinarians resolved to hunker down with the creatures and see them through the storm.
Horton pleaded for volunteers to take in their animals for the duration of the storm, a common, plaintive refrain at other shelters across the area.
Empty stores and packed houses alike sit boarded up and bolstered with sandbags, and the streets are empty with curfews in effect in many areas.
Even if you know nothing about hurricanes, an unavoidable sense of doom and destruction overtakes you when you look at this image of Hurricane Florence as it moves inexorably toward North and SC. The storm's 12-mph forward speed Thursday morning was a marked drop from Wednesday's 17-mph speeds.
Photos of the beaches in North and SC show how serious it's going to be. "We have two boats and all our worldly possessions", said Susan Patchkofsky, who refused her family's pleas to evacuate and stayed at Emerald Isle with her husband.
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That will be in addition to a storm surge that could reach nine feet. "This storm will bring destruction to North Carolina ", Gov. Amparo did not specify how many modular units were on hand to respond to Hurricane Florence , but said it was "more than 2,000".
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Officials in the potential path of Florence urged people to evacuate their coastal homes and directed drivers away from the coast. He asked citizens in danger zones to heed warnings because "your time is running out". "Inland flooding kills a lot of people".
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Hurricane Florence: Carolinas brace for 'storm of lifetime'
He asked citizens in danger zones to heed warnings because "your time is running out". "Inland flooding kills a lot of people". Forecasts generally project Florence to make landfall in southeastern North Carolina on Friday as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.
SC coastline battered as Hurricane Florence lands
As of Thursday, all flights to Charleston and Raleigh, North Carolina, have been canceled out of Miami International Airport. Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
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Hurricane Florence threatens millions on US East Coast
At 2 a.m., the storm was centered 625 miles (1,005 km) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 17 mph (28 kph). A risky storm surge will come before the massive storm makes landfall late Friday or early Saturday.