"This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast".
At a press conference Thursday morning, officials stressed that Hurricane Florence's wind speed may have fallen, but the danger has not.
Faced with new forecasts that showed a more southerly threat, Georgia's governor joined his counterparts in Virginia and North and SC in declaring a state of emergency, and some residents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes. Up to 10 feet of storm surge is expected, while some of the inlets can see up to 15 feet.
At last report, the storm was about 180 kilometers east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and about 270 kilometers east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Florence's winds had dropped from a peak of 140 miles per hour to 105 miles per hour by Thursday, reducing the hurricane from a terrifying Category 4 to a 2.
She is now one of a glut of tropical storms in the Atlantic, with Florence sparking mass evacuations as she heads towards landfall in the USA states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Meanwhile the hurricane is forecast to dump 1ft to 2ft 6in of rain that could cause flooding well inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and farms. A tropical storm warning covers the area from north of Duck to the Virgina Tidewater area.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 100 miles per hour, but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency on the federal level Tuesday for the Carolinas and Virginia.
"Don't play games with it".
The path of Hurricane Florence could affect the homes of more than 5 million people, and more than 1 million of them have been ordered to evacuate. Airlines cancelled almost 1000 flights and counting.
People across the region rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies, board up their homes, pull their boats out of the water and get out of town. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1100 trucks.
Streams of people are fleeing in cars as Hurricane Florence is expected to lash America with winds of up to 157mph - leaving coastal areas submerged in up to 9ft of water. Some 3,000 people died in the aftermath of that storm.
Models agree the storm should strike land between the North Carolina-South Carolina border and the North Carolina Outer Banks, and then track across South Carolina.
"Things will not be normal for several says", he said.
On Instagram, parenting blogger Chrissy Marie, based in North Carolina, posted a photo of her kids' hurricane party, complete with bright pink balloons.
FlightAware expects the number of cancellations to rise, although "the limited number of hubs being impacted by Florence will likely limit the scale of disruption that cascades through the national air travel system", spokeswoman Sara Orsi said in a statement.
The National Weather Service is forecasting "significant" river flooding, especially in the northeastern portion of the state.
Footage shows a pier and a beach in Nags Head, North Carolina, being hit with heavy surf as the storm rolls into the area. "We've just never seen anything like this".
"We hope to have something left when we get home", she said.
"Roper St. Francis is open and stocked with water, a dedicated hurricane supply room that includes portable generators and cots, and also has three large CAT generators".