Director Ken Graham says there is nothing "minor" about this hurricane.
The centre urges people within the affected areas to take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other unsafe conditions.
Hurricane Florence was downgraded to Category 2 storm on Thursday, but forecasters cautioned that the mammoth storm still poses a major threat to millions of people. "I'm going to get killed on the road, '" Bradley said.
The National Weather Service is predicting "excessive" rainfall totals, potentially up to 40 inches in isolated areas, as Florence comes to crawl off the coast of the Carolinas before making landfall somewhere near the border of the two states.
The bigger airports could see flights resume by Saturday afternoon or Sunday if they are not damaged by the storm, but it may take longer for the smaller airports to come back online.
In its 1 a.m. Friday update, the NHC said Florence was about 45 miles east of Wilmington, NC, packing maximum-sustained winds of 90 mph.
Oddly, the closer Hurricane Florence gets to land, the murkier its future gets. Tropical storm force winds extend up to 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the center.
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It is expected to bring massive amounts of rain, devastating flooding gale-force winds that could knock out power for weeks.
As of 11 a.m., Florence was located at 33.4 N, 75.5 W, about 145 miles (230 km) ESE of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 195 miles (315 km) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A storm surge warning is in effect for South Santee River South Carolina to Duck North Carolina. Hurricane-force winds extended 130km from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 315km. The center is slowing down and is expected to stall and perhaps wander around just offshore on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
It is unclear exactly how many people fled, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.
Hours before a mandatory evacuation took effect, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, resident Phoebe Tesh paused while loading her auto to have a glass of wine on the steps of the house where she and her husband rent an apartment. That same area experienced risky flooding after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
"The shelters are not taking dogs", Ramirez said. The hurricane is now being steered across the southwestern Atlantic Ocean towards the southeastern United States around the southeastern periphery of a mid-level ridge centered northeast of Bermuda.
According to NHC: "A Storm Surge Watch means there is a possibility of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline, in the indicated locations during the next 48 hours".
Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but reconsidered due to its ferocity.
Florence was moving west-southwest at about 5 miles per hour (7 km/h), with its centre located over eastern SC.
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Storm Florence: Disaster declared in North Carolina
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 .
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Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire. "We have started to see the water recede". Areas from Wilmington through Fayetteville to Charlotte will experience 500-year to 1,000-year flood events, he said.
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Tropical bands from Florence begin lashing Carolinas
Ken Graham, the NHC's director, warned the slow pace of the storm exacerbated its danger even to areas outside its immediate path. Airlines canceled about 1,200 flights and counting, and some airports in the Carolinas virtually shut down.
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Hundreds of people had to be rescued in New Bern, North Carolina, as they called for help overnight, city officials said. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of up to 21 miles per hour (34 kph) on Friday morning in Columbia.