Immigration officers have been dispatched to help with response and recovery as Florence lashes North and SC with life-threatening winds, rain and floods.
About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders and millions of others live in areas likely to be affected by the storm.
Its storm surge and the prospect of 1 to 3 1/2 feet of rain were considered a bigger threat than its winds, which dropped off from an alarming 140 miles per hour - Category 4 - earlier in the week.
The center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC on Thursday, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern SC on Thursday night and Friday, the NHC added.
Forecasters said "catastrophic" freshwater flooding was expected along waterways far from the coast of the Carolinas.
"Florence is an uninvited brute who doesn't want to leave", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper told NPR's Morning Edition. "Disaster is at the doorstep and it's coming in".
The effects of Hurricane Florence have already arrived to the US East Coast, where the National Hurricane Center forecasts as much as 40 inches of rain and 11 feet of flooding from storm surge in some places.
Flood warnings on the Neuse at Kinston projected water levels climbing to a moderate flood level by Saturday and creeping close to major flooding through at least Wednesday.
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City officials in one North Carolina community sent out an ominous tweet sometime around 2 a.m. Friday.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, concerned the storm would bring its devastation south, issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in his state.
Not everyone was taking Florence too seriously: About two dozen locals gathered Thursday night in the U.S. behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington.
The worst of the storm's fury had yet to reach coastal SC, where emergency managers said it was not too late for people to get out. Near Wilmington alone, Duke Energy reported 67 percent of its customers - 86,000 - had lost power.
Florence's hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 195 miles (315 kilometers) from the eye.
North Shore Animal League America announced it was partnering with Martinsville SPCA to rescue dogs and puppies from the Carolina and Virginia areas shelters. But Outlaw said on Friday morning it's "not a bad idea to get in your vehicle and get west of I-95" if residents feel they can safely do so.
Officials in New Hanover County, which includes Wilmington, have stockpiled enough food and water for 60,000 people for four days, along with more than 28,000 tarps. Firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull people out after the cinderblock structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse.