Hurricane Florence smashed into the US East Coast on Friday with howling winds, torrential rains and life-threatening storm surges as emergency crews scrambled to rescue hundreds of people stranded in their homes by flood waters.
The center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC on Thursday, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern SC on Thursday night and Friday, the NHC added.
A "storm surge watch" is issued when flooding is possible, while a "warning" is issued when flooding is expected.
Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina at 7:15 AM EDT (1115 UTC) with estimated maximum winds of 90 miles per hour (150 km/h), and a minimum central pressure estimate of 958 millibars.
About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.
"It's going to coming roaring up to the coast Thursday night and say 'I'm not sure I really want to do this and I'll just take a tour of the coast and decide where I want to go inland, '" said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground. "We'll handle it. We're ready, we're able".
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said Florence was set to cover nearly all of the state in several metres of water. And Florence remained capable of unleashing rain-fueled catastrophic flooding of rivers and low-lying areas across a wide region.
Life-threatening storm surges of up to 13ft were also forecast in some areas along with the possibility of tornadoes in North Carolina.
Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared a year ago for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at almost 3,000.
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Utility officials have warned that widespread power outages are likely and that it could take weeks to restore electricity.
At 11.00pm (0300 GMT), the eye of the storm was 280 miles (450km) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving northwest at 17 mph. It could linger along the Atlantic Coast, dumping massive amounts of rain before drifting inland and bringing its heavy rainfall across the South and into the Mid-Atlantic states by early next week.
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"To those in the storm's path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference in Raleigh, adding that Florence would "continue its violent grind across the state for days".
In Wilmington, Solange Iliou Thompson closed down her restaurant, Indochine, because all of her employees had left the city. "I'm a little bit scared right now", she said, "but I have my iPad and I'm watching Netflix". "The building's solid and Buddha will protect us".
"Best visual I've ever seen!" read one social media comment. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have minded staying here".
Southeastern coastal North Carolina and far northeastern SC are expected to get pelted with 20 to 30 inches of rain, and some isolated spots may get up to 40 inches in 48 hours.
Byard again urged residents in danger zones to heed warnings to either evacuate or hunker down.
When all is said and done, Florence could dump 18 trillion gallons along its path, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue. More than 722,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and SC early on Friday, utility officials said.
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Transportation will also be impacted, as roads will "likely" be scoured or fail in many places with the possibility of sinkholes. On Thursday morning, South 17th Street, usually teeming with commuter traffic by 6:30 a.m., was almost devoid of cars.
Officials in the potential path of Florence urged people to evacuate their coastal homes and directed drivers away from the coast. Florence should weaken to a tropical storm after 24 hours and then to below tropical storm strength after 48 hours.
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