More than 420,000 people had evacuated their homes by Thursday afternoon, McMaster said.
A flash flood watch is under effect for Nash and Edgecombe counties through Saturday evening, as Florence is expected to slow its forward progress tonight into Friday before moving slowly west-southwest late Friday into Saturday, producing a prolonged period of torrential rainfall across sections of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. In New Bern, on the Neuse River, a CNN team had to keep shifting position in a park as the water kept rising until it was too unsafe to stay in the area.
So far, a state of emergency has been declared in five states - South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland and Washington DC.
Colgate, a Patriot League program from NY, had hotel rooms and meal plans locked down for the trip to Greenville, South Carolina. Officials say they have almost 300 employees on standby. On North Carolina's Outer Banks, water flowed through streets and between beachfront homes, and some of the few people still left in Nags Head took photos of angry waves topped with white froth.
Some evacuees who've been displaced since Tuesday were increasingly growing impatient and anxious as reports about where the storm would hit, and how hard, have changed.
Even the thousands of emergency workers on scene - ranging from power workers to National Guardsmen to cops, many of them volunteers from across the country - could only sit and wait for Florence to do its worst before they could do their best.
Gillikin says the North Carolina Coastal Reserve stands ready to respond with whatever resources they can to help any animal suffering after the storm. "And you don't need power to sling booze", said owner Eli Ellsworth. She retreated and was eventually rescued by a boat crew. Cramer said the police chief informed him that as of this morning, the only people in sight were "two or three stragglers".
One climate model is predicting that as much as 11 trillion gallons of rain will fall on North Carolina in the coming week - an amount that's enough to fill the Empire State Building 40 times over.
"This time it's important". And newly formed Subtropical Storm Joyce is not expected to threaten land soon.
Residents should stay away from doors and windows and stay in the most interior part of the structure they are using for shelter, he said. Millions of people were expected to lose power from the storm and restoration could take weeks.
Not everybody was heeding orders to evacuate, however.
Sam Tillett, a 32-year-old bartender, tells NPR's Sarah McCammon that his family has been here for six generations - and he plans to stay. Hurricane Florence is forecast to make landfall tomorrow. We're going to have 30-40 miles per hour winds, coupled with wet ground bringing down the trees, and likely some power lines. "We've already got ice; the cooler's packed".
Environmental groups are warning that flooding of animal farms caused by Hurricane Florence could contaminate floodwaters with pig and chicken waste. "Once you leave, you don't know how many days it will be before you can return", she said.
"They're not strong", Gomez said about her home making it through the storm.