Hurricane Florence: Over 188,000 without power as monster storm batters Carolinas

What happened 17 years ago

President Donald Trump urged residents to heed orders to evacuate and said the federal government was "ready for the big one that is coming".

"I've never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked", Epperson said.

He added: "This is a very unsafe storm".

The National Hurricane Center warned 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.

Since issuing a mandatory evacuation order Wednesday, nearly all of the more than 2500 residents left the island.

Florence is forecast to dump up to three feet (almost a meter) of rain in some areas.

The National Hurricane Center says the Neuse River near the city is recording more than 10 feet (3.05 meters) of inundation.

"Just because the wind speed came down, the intensity of this storm came down to a Cat 2, please do not let your guard down", said Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), speaking earlier Thursday.

Operations at the ports of Wilmington, Charleston, South Carolina, and Norfolk in Virginia, which together handled 23 per cent of East Coast imports in 2017, have been disrupted by the storm.

More than one million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of North and SC and Virginia and thousands moved to emergency shelters, officials said.

Virginia and Georgia are also under states of emergency, but it's North and SC that are positioned to suffer the worst of the storm's wrath.

Top winds were holding at 90 miles per hour - that's just a Category 1 hurricane - but some communities were already submerged in more than six feet of water as the storm drenched the coast.

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The eastbound lanes of several major highways have been shut down to allow traffic to flow inland, but the exodus was slow along roads jammed with outward-bound vehicles.

Avair Vereen, 39, took her seven children to a shelter in Conway High School near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

"The vast majority of the time the horses know what to do, and they are able to get to higher ground or protect themselves", said Gillikin.

North Carolina is the largest tobacco grower and ranks second among USA states in hog inventory and producing broiler chickens.

"I'm going to get killed on the road, '" Bradley said.

"I rode out Hugo", Miller said of a 1989 hurricane that caused widespread damage.

"Hugo was a direct hit", he said.

"We have prepared everything", he says, "to have enough food, water, batteries, radio, first-aid supplies, and everything we need to be safe".

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.

The total bill for damage from Florence could eventually reach $US10 billion ($13.8b) to $US20 billion ($27.7b), said Chuck Watson, a disaster researcher at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.

"It doesn't matter how much money you have or how many generators you have if you can't get gas", she said.

Some minor flooding was reported on the Outer Banks - barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina - and in some seaside coastal towns, as more than 110,000 power outages were reported statewide.

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