As of 4 a.m., maximum sustained winds were at 90 miles per hour.
By the time it leaves, it's expected to have unloaded 10 trillion gallons of rainfall in North Carolina, weather.us meteorologist Ryan Maue said. Another 8 million people live in areas covered by hurricane and tropical storm warnings.
Florence's weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who anxious that the storm could still be deadly. Restoring power to all customers could take weeks, it said.
Winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence moved in for an extended stay, with enough of its killer winds swirling overseas to maintain its power. Wilmington is now experiencing winds at 85 miles per hour. "Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience". Hundreds of thousands of people have evacuated the coast, more than 1500 U.S. flights have been cancelled, factories were shut and farmers rushed to save crops, poultry and pigs in anticipation of the storm. Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.
Prisoners were affected, too.
By then, Craven County had already gotten more than 100 calls from people who said they were trapped in their homes and in vehicles, public information officer Amber Parker tells TIME Friday morning.
Avair Vereen, 39, took her seven children to a shelter in Conway High School near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
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As of 11 p.m., Florence was centered about 85 miles (135 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, its forward movement slowed to 5 mph (7 kph). We will have tropical storm force winds and rain and storm surge continues to be our main concern with extreme flooding.
Georgia joined North and South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland in issuing an emergency declaration as forecasts showed Florence dumping historic amounts of rain - potentially 37 trillion litres - on the southern states.
Hurricane Florence began lashing the North Carolina coast on Thursday, with heavy surf pounding the Outer Banks and barrier islands, winds shredding flags, and a storm surge pushing seawater over some beaches and past oceanfront homes. But these winds combined with a giant storm surge and deluge of rain are brewing havoc along the coast.
Florence arrived at the Carolina coast as a Category 1 storm - its 90 miles per hour sustained winds far below the fearsome 150 miles per hour that it packed just days ago.
Within hours of the storm making landfall, officials in Onslow County - which includes the city of Jacksonville, reported "major structural damage to homes, businesses and institutions".
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.
People are seen inside a shelter run by Red Cross before Hurricane Florence comes ashore in Grantsboro, N.C., September 13, 2018.
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