The outer edge of Hurricane Florence began buffeting the Carolinas with wind and rain on Thursday as forecasters warned the monster storm would trigger life-threatening flooding as it assaults the United States east coast.
But North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent".
National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear said in a video briefing North Carolina would see the equivalent of up to eight months of rain in a two-to three-day period.
Perched on the porch of his home, carpenter Tony Albright was calmly awaiting Florence's arrival, beer in hand. A few hearty locals gathered at Cape Fear Wine and Beer pub in downtown Wilmington.
She said a hurricane has a way of bringing everyone to the same level. Weather forecasts estimate that the Category 2 storm could dump 17 trillion gallons of rain on the East Coast. "I am frightened about what's coming".
Forecasters said that given the storm's size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds.
While the storm may have slowed down slightly, it will still bring life-threatening storm surges, high winds, massive flooding and power cuts as it makes landfall on the coast of North and SC.
Duke Energy said the hurricane could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.
In Carolina Beach, North Carolina, authorities have stopped allowing traffic to the island via the only bridge between the island and the mainland.
But the real threat from Florence isn't from wind, it's from water, with the National Hurricane Center warning of "life-threatening storm surge and rainfall".
But officials are not taking down their guard yet, and would wait until early next week to determine whether BGE could afford to send crews to other regions to help, she said.
Florence is expected to strike North Carolina's coast on Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, according to Miami's National Hurricane Center (NHC). "The storm surge forecast associated with this storm has not changed".
Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Despite pleas from officials, some residents ignored calls to evacuate.