Hurricanes can push masses of water from the sea over land when they come ashore, raising local sea levels by as much as 20 feet (6 meters), according to the National Hurricane Center.
At 11:00 pm (0300 GMT), Florence was over the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and moving northwest at six miles per hour, the NHC 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.
The police chief of a barrier island in Florence's bulls'-eye said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified, causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker.
"It truly is really about the whole size of this storm", National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. The city said two FEMA teams were working on swift-water rescues and more were on the way. "Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience".
That said, the storm is still expected to stall once it hits the Wilmington coast, with weather officials early Thursday raising the expected total rainfall for Wilmington to 35 inches - weather officials had predicted 30 inches for Wilmington in briefings released Wednesday.
There is around 156,068 people that have lost power and police have suspended their services in Morehead City and other coastal cities, warning any residents who remain in the evacuation zone that they will be without emergency services until the storm passes. Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.
Prisoners were affected, too.
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.
More than a million people along the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been ordered to evacuate.
About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said. Ocean water flowed between homes and on to streets on the Outer Banks; waves crashed against wooden fishing piers.
Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head, N.C., on September 13 as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast. FEMA officials wrote on Twitter people should not focus on the category of the storm - as of Thursday morning, Hurricane Florence was a Category 2 storm, indicating slower wind speeds - but rather should pay attention to the fact there will be extreme flooding in the Carolinas as a result.
The storm's outer bands have reached the Wilmington region, prompting flooding in coastal communities from the hurricane's high storm surges, which forecasters said would be up to 13 feet high.
Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour (225 kph), the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.
Trump faced severe criticism for his administration's response to Hurricane Maria a year ago in Puerto Rico.
President Donald Trump has said that the federal government is "absolutely, totally prepared" for Hurricane Florence as it heads toward the Eastern Seaboard.
"We'll operate without power; we have candles".
"This is our only home". "We've just never seen anything like this".
"But we can't replace us so we made a decision to come here". "We chose to hunker down".
He urged people to stay off roads during peak storm conditions and warned against driving through standing floodwater. Even if Florence were downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, it would still cause extensive damage , Abrams says.
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