It is now at Category 1.
- The number of NC residents without power is now over 150,000, according to the Department of Public Safety.
In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged people to remain away from home despite forecast changes showing Florence's path largely missing the state.
Hurricane Florence already inundated coastal streets with ocean water and left tens of thousands without power early Friday, and forecasters say conditions will only worsen as the hulking storm slogs inland.
"We are truly pre-positioned as best we can be, based on what we know", FEMA administrator William "Brock" Long said during a briefing Thursday.
A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for.
"This storm will bring destruction to North Carolina", Cooper said. Hurricane-force winds extended 130 kilometres from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 315 kilometres.
Municipal power agencies are also reporting significant outages.
In the North Carolina town of Wilmington, which could take a direct hit from Florence, wind gusts were stirring up frothy white caps into the Cape Fear River.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is imposing a 12-hour curfew from 19:00 local time on Thursday. "We are not directly affected here", Williams said.
Meanwhile, lane reversals on USA 501 in the Grand Strand ended at noon Thursday and reversals on I-26 ended Thursday night, allowing state police and transportation workers to get to safety before the storm hits.
The storm is now 60 miles east-southeast of Wilmington with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. Millions were expected to lose power from the storm and restoration could take weeks.
Forecasters said wind speeds had dropped from a high of 225 kilometers per hour to 175 kph, reducing it from a Category 4 storm to a Category 2 one, and additional fluctuations and weakening were likely as it swirled toward land.
Some areas could receive as much as 40 inches of rain, forecasters said.
And there is also a major threat from freshwater, with warnings of "catastrophic" flooding from lakes, rivers and freshwater reserves expected over parts of the Carolinas and Virginia.
"What we've seen as far as people actually evacuating, just from monitoring evacuation routes, seems there's been a pretty light amount of people evacuating", Ms. Norton said.
Florence has been bearing down on the Carolinas for days, and it has expanded in size, with tropical-storm-force winds extending almost 200 miles from the storm's eye.
Rainfalls up to 40 inches (102 centimeters) in some places are expected in a region ranging from coastal North Carolina to northeastern SC, with flash flooding likely, according to the NHC.
Authorities typically say those who ignore evacuation orders are "on their own" should an emergency occur before first responders can be deployed.
Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather with his dog Canelo.
"I have no generator", said Petra Langston, a nurse.
Perched on the porch of his home, carpenter Tony Albright was calmly awaiting Florence's arrival, beer in hand.
"I'm not anxious at all", said Richard Ford, 34, smoking a cigarette outside one of Wilmington's five shelters.