A National Weather Service forecaster in Wilmington, North Carolina, said: 'This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast.
The storm's maximum sustained winds were clocked on Wednesday at 115 miles per hour (185 km per hour), down from a peak of 140 mph a day earlier before Florence was downgraded from a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of wind strength. "That means the more trees that could fall, the more power outages", National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said.
The NHC stressed, however, that while a slow weakening is expected over the next 24 hours "Florence is still forecast to be an extremely unsafe major hurricane when it nears the U.S. coast late Thursday and Friday".
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in his state ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence along with its pounding winds and rain.
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"I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence", Deal said. Potential threats from hurricanes include powerful winds, heavy rainfall, storm surges, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents, tornadoes, and landslides.
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.
Kevin Miller, a 50-year-old electrician, said he planned to ride out the storm at his home near Charleston. North and SC and Virginia declared emergencies earlier in the week.
Florence is forecast to dump up to three feet (almost a meter) of rain in some areas after it makes landfall in North and SC.
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"We're just trying to plan for the future here, not having a house for an extended period of time", David Garrigus said.
"This will be a storm that creates and causes massive damage to our country".
While Hurricane Florence has sparked state of emergency and mass evacuation, a very unfortunate weather graphic has managed to put a smile on those preparing for the storm. "Now it might be time for the exam", he said. "Protection of life is the absolute highest priority and that's what we are doing".
William Manley, a spokesman for the Florida National Guard, said the National Guard will not deploy units to assist with natural disasters unless the affected states - the Carolinas in this case - request help.
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"I've been through hurricanes before but never with kids", she said.