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.
As of 8am local time, it was centred about 170 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and about 220 miles east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving north west at 12mph.
About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million more live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.
The wide storm has weakened to a Category 2 hurricane and forecasters expect top winds to drop more as it nears the shore, but they're sharing a giant dose of uncertainty.
Because landfalling hurricanes commonly spawn twisters, a tornado watch was issued for eastern North Carolina.
A state of emergency has been declared North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland and residents are on a race against time to evacuate areas at high risk of devastation.
"Catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding are likely" in the areas of the Carolinas and southern-central Appalachians throughout the next week, the Hurricane Center warns.
Airlines announced that change fees would be waived for travellers affected by the storm and in need of rebooking flights or postponing their travel until after the storm passes.
UPDATED THU 5 A.M. Map shows probable path of Hurricane Florence.; 1c x 2 1/2 inches 46.5 mm x 63
-Storm surge: up to 13 feet, and seawaters could push inland 2 miles, depending on how long Florence lingers. "We just want prayers from everyone".
It is unclear exactly how many people fled, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were urged to evacuate.
The National Hurricane Center said early Friday that Florence's eyewall is beginning to approach the North Carolina coast bringing with it life-threatening storm surge.
Five percent of gas stations in North Carolina were out of gas (one in 10 gas stations in Wilmington and Raleigh-Durham), while 2.1 percent in SC and 1 percent in Virginia were out. The hurricane is now 110 miles ESE of Wilmington, North Carolina and is moving toward the northwest at 10 mph.
Duke Energy, the nation's No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.
Where is Hurricane Florence now?
The hurricane, whose strength has been compared to a direct hit by Mike Tyson, advances with maximum sustained winds of 175 kilometres per hour. "It's a big one". The government of Puerto Rico accepted these numbers, too, after many months in which the official death toll was listed at 64 people.
"Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated", he said. Areas further from the coast could see 6-12in of rain.
"It doesn't matter how much money you have or how many generators you have if you can't get gas", she said.
An intense wave, as well as heavy rains, will announce on Thursday on the coast of Las Carolinas, the arrival of Florence.