1123 GMT February 29, 2020
Florence, was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Thursday evening and was moving west at only 6 mph (9 km/h), Reuters reported.
But the hurricane's sheer size meant it could batter the US East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day, according to weather forecasters. Despite its unpredictable path, it was forecast to make landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, at midday on Friday.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference that the "historic" hurricane would unleash rains and floods that would inundate almost the entire state in several feet of water.
North Carolina will see the equivalent of up to eight months of rain in a two- to three-day period, National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear said in a video briefing.
Heavy rain, gusting winds and rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence deluged the Carolinas on Thursday as the massive, slow-moving storm crept toward the coast, threatening millions of people in its path with record rainfall and punishing surf.
Florence, was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Thursday evening and was moving west at only 6 mph (9 km/h).
But the hurricane's sheer size meant it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day, according to weather forecasters. Despite its unpredictable path, it was forecast to make landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, at midday on Friday.
North Carolinians made last-minute preparations and hunkered down to await Florence's arrival.
Holly Waters, a retired special education teacher from Wilmington, said she was happy to have a place to go to relax before the storm worsened.
Elsewhere in Wilmington, Linda Smith, a 67-year-old retired nonprofit director, was concerned as she watched wind gusts stir up frothy white caps on the Cape Fear River.
"We're a little worried about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now," Smith said. "I am frightened about what's coming. We just want prayers from everyone."
At least 88,000 people were without power in North Carolina with the brunt of the storm yet to come, according to the state's emergency management agency.
Millions of people were expected to lose power from the storm and restoration could take weeks. Roads and intersections on North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands were already inundated with water.
Florence's top winds were clocked on Thursday at 100 miles per hour (170 km per hour) as it churned in the Atlantic Ocean, down from a peak of 140 mph (224 kph) earlier this week when it was classified a Category 4 storm.
About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than one million had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia, jamming westbound roads and highways for miles.
At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.
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.
NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook the storm surges could push in as far as 2 miles (3 km).
Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian Mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Despite pleas from officials, some residents rejected calls to evacuate.