By 1:50 pm (1750 GMT) the winds had dropped to 75 miles per hour (120 kph) and the center was moving west at a 6 miles per hour (10 kph), the NHC said, and parts of North and SC would get as much as 40 inches of rain (1 meter).
Waves slam the Oceana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the area.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged people to take the storm seriously.
But authorities warned it will still be an extremely unsafe hurricane.
Utility crews worked to restore electricity.
Port of Wilmington, North Carolina, extended operating hours for trains and trucks to clear cargo containers from the complex. The governor said tens of thousands are without power and roads are beginning to flood along the coast.
"The fact that there haven't been more deaths and damage is unbelievable and a blessing", said Rebekah Roth, walking around Wilmington's Winoca Terrace neighbourhood.
The hurricane center said Florence will approach the coast Thursday and Friday and linger for a while before rolling ashore.
As of late Tuesday evening, Florence was located approximately 600 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. While inland areas may be spared the strongest winds, they could be vulnerable to flooding, especially if close to overflowing rivers.
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The hurricane damaged key roads making evacuations hard, knocked out power at most gas stations in the region, and slammed hurricane-force winds into three nuclear power stations, damaging one, according to a Department of Energy simulation manual.
"Rail cars with vehicles destined for export from Charleston have been diverted to secure holding areas until the storm passes", BMW spokesman Kenn Sparks said.
"It's like being stalked by a turtle", Federal Emergency Management Agency official Jeff Byard told reporters.
Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm but it is still being classed as extremely risky and life-threatening storm. Airlines had canceled almost 1,000 flights and counting through Friday. Two men died in Lenoir County, one electrocuted attempting to connect extension cords and the other killed when he was blown down by high winds while checking on his hunting dogs. New Bern Police Lt. David Daniels said that between 150 and 200 people were rescued so far, with others still waiting for help.
Forecasts call for the eye to hit land sometime Friday near the Carolinas border.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm probably a 7" in terms of worry, she said.
This is the third time SC has had to cancel a game due to weather in the last four years.
Helping with rescues there were members of the so-called Cajun Navy, a group of Louisiana-based volunteers who became famous during last year's Hurricane Harvey, locals said on Twitter.
"Our friend behind our old house, they have gators swimming in the water". Protection of life is the absolute highest priority and that's what we are doing. Trump plans a visit to the region next week.
Florence, for her part, shares similarities with Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Houston on August 25 of 2017 as a Category 4 hurricane and dumped record-setting amounts of rain.