Florence was expected to make landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, at midday local time (5pm Irish time), and forecasters said its size meant it could batter the US East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day.
About 10 million people live in the path of the slow-moving storm and more than 1 million had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia, jamming westbound roads and highways for miles.
Florence, which is forecast to crawl up to the North Carolina coast later this week and turn slowly left, weakened Wednesday night as it continued toward the coastal Carolina areas, reported the National Hurricane Center.
"The storm sort of made me run a little faster, I live there in Charlotte and things are not going to be too good", said Dougherty.
The National Hurricane Center forecasts that it could be centered over southwestern Pennsylvania by early Tuesday morning, potentially bringing more rain to Maryland and another surge of floodwaters down an already swollen Susquehanna River.
Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia.
Tropical storm conditions are expected for areas of the Carolinas on Thursday with hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or greater) projected for "late Thursday or Friday".
Two detention facilities in SC that are within government-mandated evacuation zones will not relocate inmates ahead of Hurricane Florence's landfall there.
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In Carolina Beach, an island community off the coast of Wilmington, 75 percent of residents have already left town. The eye was about 530 miles southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving west-northwest at 17 miles per hour.
As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are "supplied and ready", and he disputed the official conclusion that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad.
"I have no generator", said Petra Langston, a nurse.
It's the slow movement that could result in what the National Weather Service for Newport and Morehead City, North Carolina called possible "historical rainfall amounts" with "UNPRECEDENTED flooding". We will have tropical storm force winds and rain and storm surge continues to be our main concern with extreme flooding.
Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head, N.C., on September 13 as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast.
Even though the ISS is 400km above the storm, Florence is so huge that astronauts needed a wide-angle lens to capture the storm. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.
With South Carolina's beach towns more in the bull's-eye because of the shifting forecast, OH vacationers Chris and Nicole Roland put off their departure from North Myrtle Beach to get the maximum amount of time on the sand. "If we lose the house, oh well, we can get housing".
Duke Energy Co. said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks.
"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face".
Wild horses in the Rachel Carson Reserve in Beaufort, North Carolina will fend for themselves during Hurricane Florence.