Before, the National Hurricane Center feared that Florence would make landfall as a Category 4 storm.
The storm's outer bands lashed towns on the barrier islands and on some of the Tar Heel State's rivers, as the center of the cyclone moved to make a probable Friday landfall.
About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been put under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders to avoid what emergency officials called a "once in a lifetime" storm. When Hurricane Floyd attacked North Carolina in 1999, it didn't stall; Floyd was a fast-moving storm. Weather forecasters also warn that the threat of tornadoes is increasing as the system draws closer to land.
The storm is moving in a northwesterly direction at about 9 km/h.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference that the "historic" hurricane would unleash rains and floods that would inundate nearly the entire state in several feet of water, Reuters reports.
"A turn toward the west-northwest and west at a slow forward speed is expected through Friday, followed by a slow west-southwestward motion Friday night and Saturday", the NHC said.
And in Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified, causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker. People in the Carolinas had the daytime hours Thursday to complete their final preparations to ride out or escape the storm.
The storm is 50 miles from Morehead City and 70 miles from Wilmington. Further inland, rain totals could reach 30 cm in the Carolinas, and up to 24 cm in the rest of the Carolinas and in southwestern Virginia.
He said hurricane-force winds extended outward 80 miles from the center of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extended almost 200 miles out.
Combined with the predicted rainfall, it's possible that flooding damages will pose as the greatest risk during Hurricane Florence's reign.
Volunteers from all over North Carolina help rescue residents and their pets from their flooded homes during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in New Bern, United States.
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Pablo Santos, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told VOA that when the center of Florence comes ashore and shifts north as expected, it will still be "catastrophic" due tin a large extent to the storm surge.
The full impact of the storm surge on the coast will depend on whether the storm's arrival coincides with high tide.
Brock, meanwhile, said the surges "are going to be a major problem way up into the streams and tributaries that come out of sound areas".
"Your time is running out", he warned.
Hurricane-force winds are expected to spread to parts of the coast Friday.
The expert's remarks come amid a series of reports of people who refused to evacuate.
"Since my husband retired and my health declined, we have his retirement as an income".
Her friend Kate is refusing to evacuate as well because of "the idea of having to leave with my two cats and go somewhere for a week or more". The homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Governor Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.
Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that protecting lives is his "absolute highest priority".