As of 10am Thursday (local time), Florence's top winds were 177km/h, and it was marching northwest at16km/h, about 257km east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 329km east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The storm's winds may have weakened in recent days - they are now at 110mph (175km/h) - but there are fears Florence's slow-moving nature could bring different problems.
The 400-mile wide storm is predicted to start slamming the N.C. coast Thursday night to early Friday, then weaken to a tropical storm as it drifts into SC, said John Quagliariello, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia.
Heavy bands of rain and tropical storm force winds are sweeping across the barrier islands off North Carolina and along the southeastern coast of the state.
"This storm will bring destruction to North Carolina", Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday morning.
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The storm was about 235 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and was moving at about 17 mph on Thursday. While many people focus on the wind speed of storms, the danger often comes from the water flowing in from the ocean.
The NHC said the first tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour would hit the region early on Thursday with the storm's center reaching the coast Friday. And Florence remained capable of unleashing rain-fuelled catastrophic flooding of rivers and low-lying areas across a wide region. The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia declared emergencies to help speed up government aid efforts. The storm surge could reach up to more than 3.9m, if the maximum surge coincides with high tide.
Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. "It's possible that the west coast of Wales and Cornwall could get some winds as well, but we will get a clearer picture of what to expect very soon". "What we will get are the remnants of the tropical storm".
"Just because the wind speeds came down, the intensity of this storm came down to a Category 2, please do not let your guard down", said FEMA Administrator Brock Long. "We're still going to have a Category 4 storm surge".
"Our sand dunes are healthy but they're not going to be able to keep back a wall of water like that", he said.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic basin, Tropical Storm Isaac will strike the islands of the Lesser Antilles, which are expected to experience tropical storm conditions and rainfall amounts of up to 6 inches.
And then there's the major slowdown that's expected: as of Thursday, Florence was moving roughly 17 km/h, but once it makes landfall, it's expected to nearly stall, with its forward speed dropping to just 9 km/h or less.
Duke Energy said Florence, a Category 2 storm, could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.
Near the beach in Wilmington, a Waffle House restaurant, part of a chain with a reputation for staying open during disasters, had no plans to close, even if power is lost.
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