The driving winds and pelting rain of Hurricane Florence's western edge began to batter the Carolinas Thursday evening, giving the region a taste of what's to come as the monster storm moves ashore Friday.
At the 500-acre North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, workers shepherded a menagerie including elephants, giraffes and chimpanzees indoors, forming a sort of modern-day, stationary Noah's Ark to ride out the flood. The eye of that hurricane merely grazed the coast.
The "threat of freshwater flooding will increase over the next several days" in the impacted areas.
Florence is about 60 miles (95 km) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph (150 kph), the Miami-based weather forecaster said.
"It's an uninvited brute who doesn't want to leave", said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.
"This is a very unsafe storm", said FEMA's Long, urging people still in evacuation zones to heed orders to flee to safer ground.
Preceded first by the storm surge and the winds, heavy rains were picking up as of late Thursday afternoon, the beginning of an onslaught that for some areas may not relent for days.
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Some homes and businesses may be washed away on the barrier islands and along the immediate coast near and north of the storm center along the coast by dozens of miles.
FEMA's Long warned the danger was not only along the coast: "Inland flooding kills a lot of people, unfortunately, and that's what we're about to see", he said.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference that the "historic" hurricane would unleash rains and floods that would inundate nearly the entire state in several feet of water.
"We're a little anxious about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now", Smith said. Further inland, rain totals could reach 30 cm in the Carolinas, and up to 24 cm in the rest of the Carolinas and in southwestern Virginia.
Virginia and Georgia are also under states of emergency, but it's North and SC that are positioned to suffer the worst of the storm's wrath. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency on the federal level Tuesday for the Carolinas and Virginia.
Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com said Florence could dump a staggering 18 trillion gallons (68 trillion liters) of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland.
One of his projects is particularly useful while talking about potential hurricane damage: The Storm Surge Viewer. Fortunately for House, he says this storm should not be a devastating event for the beach town in terms of loss of life.
People along North Carolina coast share Snapchats of Hurricane Florence
Florence has caused the evacuation of some 1.5 million people with millions more likely to see some impact from the howling winds. Rains are expected to be quite a real hazard from the storm, as it will have a slow movement towards SC before it turns north.
The storm is moving in a northwesterly direction at about 9 km/h. However, the surge is expected to be accompanied by large and destructive waves, regardless of when the storm arrives.
"Go ahead and go - even those who are season-veterans that weathered other storms in the past", Knight said.
While the Piedmont Triad does not now face a direct hit, we are still expected to face significant rain.
He said he usually doesn't make the pizzas himself, but he was on Thursday because "everybody is scared", including most of his staff.
The Wilmington airport had a wind gust clocked at 105 miles per hour (169 kph), the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958.
Download the free AccuWeather app to stay up-to-date with Florence's expected track and impacts to the U.S.
Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic.
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Wednesday, the Category 4 storm was about 435 miles southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and moving northwest at about 16 mph. The category three storm is ploughing towards the east coast and is due to make landfall in SC early on Friday morning.