Heavy rain, gusting winds and rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence deluged the Carolinas on Thursday as the massive, slow-moving storm crept toward the coastline, threatening millions of people in its path with record rainfall and punishing surf.
Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Thursday evening and was moving west at only 6 mph (9 km/h).
But the hurricane's sheer size meant it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day, according to weather forecasters. Despite its unpredictable path, it was forecast to make landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, at midday on Friday.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference that the "historic" hurricane would unleash rains and floods that would inundate almost the entire state in several feet of water.
National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear said in a video briefing North Carolina would see the equivalent of up to eight months of rain in a two- to three-day period.
North Carolinians made last-minute preparations and hunkered down to await Florence's arrival. A few hearty locals gathered at Cape Fear Wine and Beer pub in downtown Wilmington.
"We lost power at home so we figured we should come to the bar," said Carla Mahaffee, a 33-year-old actor from Wilmington, as she drank a cider. "We've prepared all our supplies at home and frankly, we were bored."
Holly Waters, a retired special education teacher from Wilmington, said she was happy to have a place to go to relax before the storm worsened.
"It's not the middle of a hurricane yet, so why not come for a beer?" said Waters, 54.