The storm was about 435 miles southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and moving northwest at about 16 mph.
Florence's nighttime winds were down to 110 miles per hour (175 kph) from a high of 140 miles per hour (225 kph), and the Category 3 storm fell to a Category 2, with a further slow weakening expected as the storm nears the coast.
On the forecast track, the center was expected to move between Bermuda and the Bahamas, approaching the coast of North or SC on Thursday and Friday, then meander near the coastline through Saturday.
Meteorologists forecast Hurricane Florence will slow down as it moves over land, meaning it could stall over North Carolina and dump rain for days over inland North Carolina, much of which is flat, Young said. "This will allow us to take care of our community and also be prepared should the need arise to assist others", Walker said.
Those warily staring at Florence grasp in contrast it to Hurricanes Fran and Hugo, which pummeled North Carolina and SC, respectively, more than two decades ago. In South Carolina and inland parts of North Carolina, 5 to 10 inches of rain could fall, with 20 inches possible in some areas.
"He was thinking of coming here until this morning, and now he asked me if I wanted to come up there", he said.
The schools made the announcement Wednesday, citing the forecast for deteriorating weather conditions and Virginia's state of emergency declaration.
In neighbouring Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan said his state was readying for potentially "historic and catastrophic rainfall, life-threatening flooding, and high winds".
Another FEMA spokesman said: "I need to re-emphasise this is a risky storm".
In addition to the wide shots, some of Gerst's photos are zoomed-in views showing a look nearly directly down into Florence's giant eye.
State and federal officials have frequently urged residents in the target zone to evacuate but there was resistance along the coast.
In Charleston, South Carolina, streets were quiet with schools and many offices and businesses closed.
- Even from orbit, Hurricane Florence looks like a monster.
And forecasters say the computer models they use become increasingly uncertain into the weekend.
The National Hurricane Center projects rainfall anywhere from 5 to 20 inches across SC.