Don't relax; don't get complacent. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.
"What we've seen as far as people actually evacuating, just from monitoring evacuation routes, seems there's been a pretty light amount of people evacuating", Ms. Norton said.
Even though the one-time Category 4 tempest has been downgraded to a Category 2, it's still packing lethal 100-mph winds and the potential for 13-foot storm surges and 40 inches of rain, officials warned.
Storm surge from Hurricane Florence was captured on video flowing like a river between homes in Avon, North Carolina, on September 13.
More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm began buffeting the coast, and more than 12,000 were in shelters.
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.
Not everyone was taking Florence too seriously: About two dozen locals gathered Thursday night behind the boarded-up windows of the Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington.
"Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?" said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"Being in the medical field, they have where you can stay there, but being 20 weeks pregnant it just makes it hard for me to sleep on the floor", Constable said.
More than one million people have already been ordered to evacuate the coasts of North and SC and Virginia, with thousands more moved to emergency shelters, officials said.
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.
The U.S. Naval Forces North Command also has deployed ships off the S.C. coast for recovery and rescue efforts once the hurricane passes, said Lt. Cmdr. "We call them disasters because they break things". As the recovery from past storms continues in many rural towns, the next storm is about to strike. They said the military had made sites, including Fort Bragg, North Carolina, available to FEMA as staging areas for relief equipment and had put helicopters and high-wheeled vehicles at the ready in different sites in the southeast for search and rescue use.
"We may be facing a situation where hurricane-force winds are weaker than anticipated but perhaps impacting a slightly broader region than once thought", he said.
As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are "supplied and ready", and he disputed the official conclusion that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad. In some counties, almost 1 in 3 people live below the poverty line.
Homeless after losing her job at Walmart three months ago, 25-year-old Brittany Jones went to a storm shelter at a high school near Raleigh. "We are not directly affected here", Williams said.
Bill Berlino, 83, said he was skeptical of the news reports he's seen about the hurricane. "We just bought a new house so I'm kinda nervous".
County officials said damage assessments would not likely begin until Saturday.
Jack Kilbourne, 52, and his son Charlie, 13, were among the group of neighbors who live in large homes overlooking the waterway.
"The anxiety level has dropped substantially", Epperson said.