Florence, one of the strongest storms on the Eastern Seaboard in decades, is a strong Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 miles per hour.
A total of 15-20 inches of rain is expected, with isolated areas of up to 30 inches in parts of North Carolina, Virginia and the northern part of SC through Saturday.
What's more certain is beach erosion and unsafe surf conditions.
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While some said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings extending over the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the East Coast, many weren't taking any chances. In fact, Florence itself is larger than North Carolina itself.
"Been through it!" Belli said, referring to Hurricane Hugo, which caused widespread damage in SC in 1989. But despite that, bad things can happen when you're talking about a storm this size. Catastrophic floods could follow if the storm stalls inland, it said.
"This one really scares me", National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. "The biggest hazard that we're anxious about is storm surge", Long said.
The National Weather Service says nearly half of all deaths from tropical cyclones come from storm surge. A year ago, people would have laughed off such a forecast, but the European model was accurate in predicting 60 inches (150 centimeters) for Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, so "you start to wonder what these models know that we don't", University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy said.
As Graham says, "just because you have a landfall to your south doesn't mean you're out of the woods, because the winds are huge around this system". Shelters in the city were filling and some people were being bused inland to Raleigh, even though some residents there were told they might have to evacuate because of flooding.
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Crews also prepared 16 nuclear reactors in the three-state region for the storm.
Officials in New Hanover County, which includes Wilmington, have stockpiled enough food and water for 60,000 people for four days, along with more than 28,000 tarps. Rain will continue through Sunday, dumping feet of water over a wide area.
"Our first responsibility is to Athens-Clarke County, of course, and any assistance we could provide would depend on the amount of resources we have available", Burgess said.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency for Virginia over the weekend, and on Monday he requested federal assistance and ordered mandatory evacuations of residents of Zone A, Virginia's low-lying coastal areas in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore.
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