Florence's top sustained wind speeds dropped from a high of 140 miles per hour (225 kph) to 110 miles per hour (175 kph) as its outer rain bands approached the North Carolina coast early Thursday, reducing the storm from Category 4 to Category 2, but forecasters warned that the enormous wind field has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land.
FEMA's first priority after Florence passes will be getting infrastructure that's critical to communities' well-being up and running, Long said.
Police say 150-200 residents have already been rescued in New Bern and about 100 are awaiting rescue.
In Morehead City, an NWS Meteorologist captured dramatic footage of rain water sweeping through a parking lot.
The expected high winds and slow movement of the hurricane as it comes ashore are likely to make rescue efforts in flooded areas challenging, senior US Defence Department officials say. Restoring power to all customers could take weeks, it said.
Given the storm's size and slow speed, officials warned that Florence could cause similar large-scale flood damage to that seen in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago. "This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", the Hurricane Center said.
"This storm will bring destruction", said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.
The effects of Hurricane Florence can already be felt along the coast of North Carolina as of 12 p.m. on September 13. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometers). A tornado watch was also in effect for parts of North Carolina.
Screaming winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence's leading edge whipped the Carolina coast Thursday to begin an onslaught that could last for days, leaving a wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising seas.
Enough rain could fall to break North Carolina's record for a tropical storm - 24 inches - set near Wilmington during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations at the Weather Service's national prediction center.
The storm is already causing power outages, with Duke Energy reporting almost 240,000 customers have lost power in North and SC - but projects 1 to 3 million people could lose power.
New Bern, a city of about 30,000 residents, has been under a mandatory evacuation order since Tuesday.
Amber Parker, spokesperson for Craven County, North Carolina, tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson that officials are happy to have daylight on their side Friday. "The shelters are not taking dogs", Ramirez said.