WILMINGTON, North Carolina - The outer bands of Hurricane Florence drenched the Carolinas on Thursday, flooding roads, gorging rivers and knocking out power in an ominous glimpse of the damage the storm could inflict when it makes landfall on Friday with millions of people in its path. She said a hurricane has a way of bringing everyone to the same level.
Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the US East Coast as a Category 2 hurricane with winds up to 110mph - slower than yesterday but covering a wider area. It is now at Category 1.
The latest update from the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) has the storm's maximum sustained winds hitting about 145 km/h - down from 175 km/h on Wednesday, and from 220 km/h earlier in the week.
"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).
"With the extreme storm surge along the coast, rivers will start to overflow.
Despite pleas from officials, some residents rejected calls to evacuate.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged people to take the storm seriously.
More than 722,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and SC early on Friday, utility officials said.
As Hurricane Florence begins to hammer the Carolinas, a few fliers managed to escape the storms path, arriving at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Thursday just before the hurricane is predicted to made landfall.
Myrtle Beach, a SC beach resort, was virtually deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic.
Eudy said his family stayed in their home partly to protect their house.
"Afterwards, I'm going to drink a bottle of whiskey and take a two-day nap, but right now I'm walking the neighbourhood and making sure my neighbours are fine, because nobody can get in here". "But can't replace us, so we chose to come here", said the 39-year-old.
As of 8 p.m., Florence was centered about 85 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, its forward movement slowed to 5 mph (7 kph).
"It truly is really about the whole size of the storm", said National Hurricane Center head Ken Graham.
The National Weather Service said as much as 18cm of rain had fallen overnight in some coastal areas.
"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", NHC said. "While we expect an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 40 inches of rain, extensive inland flooding and storm surge flooding from Florence, Hurricane Harvey unleashed more than 60 inches of rain locally centered around the United States' fourth largest city, Houston, which has a population of 2.3 million", AccuWeather Founder and President Dr. Joel N. Myers said.
Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it's unclear how many did. "Florence will then recurve across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week". Georgia, where governor Nathan Deal has now declared an emergency, is also thought to be in the firing line.
Authorities typically say those who ignore evacuation orders are "on their own" should an emergency occur before first responders can be deployed.
"This is a very risky storm", said FEMA's Long, urging people still in evacuation zones to heed orders to flee to safer ground.