Hurricane Florence warnings and watches encompassed nearly all of North and SC, with tropical storm warnings and watches reaching north to the Virginia state line.
Hurricane Florence weakened slightly Wednesday afternoon: As of 4pm CDT Wednesday, it is a major Category 3 Hurricane with sustained winds of 120 miles per hour.
"A life-threatening storm surge is highly likely along portions of the coastline of SC and North Carolina, and a Storm Surge Warning is in effect for a portion of this area", the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday.
So far, it's estimate more than 1.7 million Americans have heeded the warnings about Hurricane Florence. But it could have been worse: Labor Day marked the end of the peak tourism season in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and other coastal getaways.
The eye of the storm was about 575 miles southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., early Wednesday, and moving west-northwest at 17 mph with recorded maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, the NHC said.
"Some fluctuations in strength will be possible through Thursday morning", it said.
About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.
Wilmington, North Carolina, just north of where the hurricane is expected to come ashore, was sunny around midday on Wednesday as the town appeared to be emptying.
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. "We just need to figure out how to make it through". Shelters in the city were filling and some people were being bused inland to Raleigh, even though some residents there were told they might have to evacuate because of flooding.
"We normally take pets for one floor but during the hurricane we make exceptions", said Maureen McGuire, director of sales at Wyndham Garden Jacksonville near Interstate 95 and J. Turner Butler Boulevard.
"We're a good community up there".
Of the Atlantic's two active hurricanes - Florence and Helene - Florence posed the greatest threat to land, as it neared the Carolinas and Virginia as a Category 3 hurricane. The ECU athletic department cited "significant safety concerns", and Hurricane Florence's "high probability of a catastrophic impact on the region and perilous travel conditions", throughout the weekend. REUTERS/Randall HillThe beach along the pier is empty ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, U.S. September 12, 2018. The flooding in southeast North Carolina and northeast SC might be "unprecedented", according to the agency.