Tropical storm-force winds extended 195 miles (315 kilometers) from Florence's center, and hurricane-force winds reached out 70 miles (110 kilometers). Maximum gusts were measured at 130 miles per hour.
"This is not going to be a glancing blow", Byard said, warning of power outages, road closures, infrastructure damage and potential loss of life.
Florence's center will approach the North and SC coast late Thursday and Friday, but it's unclear where it will make landfall.
Forecasters say those areas could be battered with hurricane conditions for at least 24 hours.
Locally, here in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, the storm has generated a moderate risk of rip currents.
More than 1.5 million people living on the US East Coast have been ordered to leave their homes as Hurricane Florence heads towards them. Mandatory evacuations began at 8 a.m.in many coastal communities.
For a swath of the North Carolina shore from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, the storm surge could range from 9-13 feet, the NHC said. "It's time for our citizens to be a part of the team".
On another barrier island just below the Bogue Banks, Steve Harrigan reported live from North Topsail Beach, where visitors and residents were largely heeding warnings from Gov. Roy Cooper (D-N.C.) to evacuate.
"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.
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"We could cover several states easily with the cloud cover alone", Graham said.
Millions of people on the East Coast of the United States find themselves in the path of a monster Category 4 hurricane that threatens catastrophic coastal flooding and damage in the billions of U.S. dollars.
Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. "That, folks, is extremely life-threatening".
Hoffman, along with Billy Sample and Sample's wife, say they've got homes to keep an eye on and pets to worry about.
The very center of that bullseye may be Camp Lejeune, the sprawling Marine Corps training base, where authorities were opening emergency operation centers and staging equipment.
US President Donald Trump has authorised emergency measures to free up federal funds to help those responding to the storm. The entire coastlines of North and SC, in addition to some parts of southeastern Virginia, are under a mandatory evacuation plan.
A life-threatening storm surge is now highly likely along portions of the coastlines of SC and North Carolina, and a Storm Surge Warning is in effect for a portion of this area. "As we continue to monitor the path of Hurricane Florence and make preparations, Floridians must remain vigilant".
Packing maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (225 km per hour), Florence's trajectory showed its center most likely to strike the southern coast of North Carolina by Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Damaging hurricane-force winds are likely along portions of the coasts of SC and North Carolina, and a Hurricane Warning is in effect. SC has an open date October 20 and also could play on December 1 if it does not qualify for the SEC Championship Game.