Florence is now a powerful Category 3 storm with winds of 125mph, and is expected to strengthen before making landfall along the Carolina coast later this week.
On the forecast track, the center was expected to move between Bermuda and the Bahamas, approaching the coast of North or SC on Thursday and Friday, then meander near the coastline through Saturday.
Bryan Wood, a meteorologist and storm-damage analyst for Assurant Inc., said that Florence will hamper businesses even after it degrades from hurricane status.
The time to prepare is nearly over, he said. He urged people to leave immediately rather than face the wrath of the "once in a lifetime" storm.
People fleeing coastal North and SC clogged highways early Wednesday as Florence bore down on the coast for a direct hit in a low-lying region dense with beachfront vacation homes.
Strong winds, storm surge, and flash flooding are major concerns for Florence and rains in excess of 20 inches can be expected in the Cape Fear region.
He said much will depend on when, where and how fast it hits ground.
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Emergency preparations in SC now include more than 2,100 of the state's National Guard soldiers.
Florence could become the most powerful storm to hit the area in more than 60 years if its intensity continues.
The Charleston International Airport will close Wednesday night at 11:59 p.m. until further notice, reports George Kearns of South Carolina Public Radio. But his partner, Emily Whisler, said she will remain behind at the university where she is a resident in the psychiatry program.
The National Hurricane Center projects rainfall anywhere from 5 to 20 inches across SC.
"In light of the storm's forecasted southward track after making landfall, I encourage Georgians to be prepared for the inland effects of the storm as well as the ensuing storm surge in coastal areas", he said.
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On the other side of the world, meanwhile, more than a dozen people have died as Typhoon Mangkhut rips through the Philippines . Florence has lost a bit of steam as it starts to move inlands and winds are down to maximum gusts of 75 miles per hour .