Florence to approach the Carolinas coast later Thursday: NHC

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Mandatory evacuations were ordered ahead of Florence's landfall in parts of North and SC, though many people chose to remain in their homes for reasons ranging from financial concerns and the need to care for pets that they may not have been able to take to some evacuation shelters, some who stayed in their residences told ABC News ahead of the storm.

A storm surge of nine to 12 feet (2.7-3.6 meters) was expected along the North Carolina coast, Goldstein said, and some areas could receive as much as 40 inches (one meter) of rain. The high winds will likely snap or uproot numerous trees.

Heavy rainbands along with tropical storm-force winds are spreading across the outer banks and coastal southeastern North Carolina, the NHC said on Thursday. Overall, Florence is about 400 miles (644 kilometers) wide. "Catastrophic effects will be felt outside the center of the storm". Cloud cover that could encompass multiple states.

Meteorologist Ryan Maue, of weathermodels.com calculated, that 34 million people in the U.S. could get at least 3in of rain from Florence, with more than 5.7 million people probably receiving at least a foot.

Anxious about how the government will respond to Hurricane Florence's devastation?

As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that Fema and first responders are "supplied and ready", and he disputed the official conclusion that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad.

Sadie Marie Holt, among those rescued from the hard-hit town, said she stuck behind for a doctor's appointment that was later cancelled. His remarks fell flat in Puerto Rico where islanders are continuing to struggle to recover a year after the Category 4 storm.

Trump provided no evidence to support his challenge.

"The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard that, trying to get out, we got thrown into trailer", the 67-year-old recalled. The losses won't be easily or quickly overcome. There are now fewer tourists to send away.

In Jacksonville, North Carolina, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door to door to pull more than 60 people out as the Triangle Motor Inn began to crumble.

Authorities warned, too, of risks of mudslides and environmental disasters from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

The eye of Hurricane Florence is spinning off the coast about 205 miles east-southeast of Wilmington.

Elder relatives carry as much weight as meteorologists in a tight-knit community of slave descendants on the SC coast.

McMaster urged people in areas under Tuesday's mandatory evacuation order to leave now if they haven't already done so.

The National Hurricane Centre said Florence will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a right hook to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week. He says: "If Mama and Grandma are going, then a lot of people are leaving".

In Belhaven, an enclave in far eastern North Carolina, the Pungo River nearly reached the second floor of buildings as the storm moved in, according to video posted on the website of The News & Observer.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm. "Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks". Some 6,000 power outages had already been reported by 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT). Other evacuees are sheltering with family and friends or in hotels. The utility room of John Hembree and Scot Perkins' Chesapeake home has become a refuge for their neighbor's birds as well as their own chickens, three dogs, turtle and cat. He said the cause was not drowning and did not provide further details.