More than a million people have been ordered to evacuate coastal areas ahead of the arrival of Florence, which boasts sustained winds of 130 miles per hour.
A hurricane warning - meaning hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours - is in effect for a long stretch of the coast, from the South Santee River in SC to Duck, N.C., which is part of the Outer Banks.
"The time to prepare is nearly over", Cooper warned. Governors in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia have issued mandatory evacuations and lane reversals.
Further, she said there will be in increased risk for isolated tornadoes, and the potential heavy rain and wind gusts from Florence could uproot trees and cause power outages.
Florence weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm on a five-step scale but had maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour (201 km per hour) as of 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), down from 130 mph earlier in the day.
More than a million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastline of the three states, while schools and factories were being shuttered. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal followed suit on Wednesday.
Hurricane Florence, growing in size despite its weakening winds on Wednesday, crept closer to the U.S. East Coast as disaster mobilizations expanded south from the Carolinas into Georgia to counter the deadly threat of high seas and floods. Rather than pushing up toward western Virginia, the storm's center is now predicted to move across eastern SC on Friday night and Saturday. Tropical Storm Olivia is approaching the Hawaiian islands, the Philippines are bracing for the powerful typhoon Mangkhut, and Tropical Storm Isaac is nearing the Leeward Islands.
"This storm is going to be a direct hit", he added.
Amanda Kinseth, reporter for WPDE ABC 15 News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
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"They told me to bring a pillow and blanket", Whisler said.
The Virginia National Guard is planning to initially bring up to 1,500 soldiers and airmen to offer help in the state's response operations. "He lives in North Carolina".
Abigail Darlington, covers the city of Charleston for the South Carolina Post and Courier.
A hurricane warning for the coast from Duck, North Carolina and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, to the South Santee River, South Carolina. Florence is now heading for ocean water with surface temperatures of around 85 degrees, meaning it will likely strengthen on its way to the East Coast.
Even with some weakening that is predicted just before it makes landfall, the storm "is expected to remain a risky major hurricane as it approaches the coastline", the hurricane center said.
Satellites orbiting Earth have also been keeping tabs on Florence from above. It could be one of the most intense hurricanes to strike the Southeast in at least two decades.
Senior National Hurricane Center specialist Stacy Stewart said the impacts of the storm will cover a wide area "regardless of exactly where the center of Florence moves".
"In general, we're expecting see somewhere between 5-10" of rain from Florence.
"A motion toward the northwest is forecast to begin by this afternoon and continue through Thursday", the hurricane center says.