North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned people: "Today the threat becomes a reality". The trend is "exceptionally bad news", said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it "smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge".
"I think I could survive a long time". Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from the center while tropical storm-force winds extend 195 miles.
Amber Parker, spokesperson for Craven County, North Carolina, tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson that officials are happy to have daylight on their side Friday.
More ominously, forecasters said the onslaught would last for hours and hours because Florence was barely creeping along at 6 mph (9 kph) and still drawing energy from the ocean.
Downpours and flooding would be especially severe, lasting for days, if the storm stalls over land.
"There's going to be really nowhere for anybody to go", said Chief House with Wrightsville Beach Police.
Similar declarations were made earlier in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. "This could be enough to knock you off your feet", says Navarro. The city said two Federal Emergency Management Agency teams were working on swift-water rescues, and more were on the way.
"We've got nearly 20,000 people in 157 shelters", Cooper said.
U.S. Southeast power companies said over 634,000 homes and businesses located mostly in North Carolina and SC were without power on Friday after Hurricane Florence hit the coast.
Forecasters said "catastrophic" freshwater flooding was expected along waterways far from the coast of the Carolinas.
All of the areas where calls for help have come were under mandatory evacuation orders beginning at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
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. "To those in the storm's path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place".
According to radar images as of 7 a.m., the storm's eye was drawing near the New Hanover-Pender County line.
More than 485,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and SC early on Friday, utility officials said.
For people living inland in the Carolinas, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest.
Hurricane Florence slowed dramatically as it approached shallower waters along the coast, dropping from a Category 4 hurricane with 130 miles per hour (209 km/h) winds on Wednesday (Sept. 12) to a Category 2 Thursday.
Outside of the wind, the broad circulation of the storm will allow for a storm surge north of the center of circulation heading into Friday.
After that, Florence is forecast to move northwest and north and move across western SC on Sunday, Sept. 15, and across western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee on Monday, Sept. 16, the NHC said.
However, forecasters say the storm's biggest threat is how much rain it is expected to produce. Their predictions call for moderate flooding at 43 rivers in North Carolina and SC within the next 12 hours. Thousands of soldiers from their National Guard forces have been mobilized.
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. The center of the storm is expected to maintain a westward track across southeastern North Carolina Friday and across eastern South Carolina Friday and Saturday. The fear is that during that slow march west, it'll drop torrential rains, flooding low-lying areas and overwhelming rivers.
As of 4 a.m., Florence was centered about 30 miles (45 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.