Hurricane Florence's leading edge is battering the Carolina coast, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets, as the hulking storm closes in with 160kph winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend.
Hurricane-force winds began whipping North Carolina as federal emergency management officials warned that the hurricane remained a "very risky storm" capable of wreaking havoc along a wide swathe of the coast.
Florence's top winds were clocked on Thursday at 100 miles per hour (170 km per hour) as it churned in the Atlantic Ocean, down from a peak of 140 mph (224 kph) earlier this week when it was classified a Category 4 storm.
Officials have warned that the life-threatening storm could come with maximum sustained wind speeds of 90mph and carries a risk of "catastrophic" flooding.
"Some say North Carolina is getting a break, but we are on the wrong side of this story", he said.
"We're on the wrong side of this storm".
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves almost 30 feet high as Florence churned toward shore.
Roy Cooper urged residents in evacuation areas of his state to get out while they still can.
Myrtle Beach, a SC beach resort, was virtually deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic.
It is the storm's movement and not its strength that has forecasters and officials anxious.
"This is a very unsafe storm", said FEMA's Long, urging people still in evacuation zones to heed orders to flee to safer ground.
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. "If we lose the house, oh well, we can get housing".
"But we can't replace us so we made a decision to come here".
Two detention facilities in SC that are within government-mandated evacuation zones will not relocate inmates ahead of Hurricane Florence's landfall there. By leaving his executive order declaring a statewide emergency in place, the state will be ready, if necessary, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said. The power companies expect millions of people to be without power for days.
Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather with his dog Canelo.
"If you find yourself here [in rising floodwaters], you need to get out", she said. "I should stay in my house, where I have water and food".