"This is an extremely risky situation". After criticism for its response in Puerto Rico to last year's Hurricane Maria, which officials there said was responsible for 3,000 deaths, Trump has vowed a vigorous response to Florence and defended his handling of Maria.
Regardless of the exact path, Florence will be a large system, and impacts such as heavy rain and strong winds will extend well beyond the center and at least into southeast SC. As the storm moves inland, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland will also be in peril.
But the most unsafe threat comes from Florence's rains and storm surge, which could bring flooding far inland.
As of 5 a.m. EDT it was centered about 205 miles (325 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 250 miles (450 kilometers) east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph).
Florence is moving toward the northwest near 15 miles per hour, and this general motion, accompanied by a gradual decrease in forward speed, is expected to continue through today.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 160 km/h, but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. In reality, Florence was downgraded by the National Weather Service from a category 3 to a category 2 storm.
This doesn't mean that the storm isn't just as unsafe, as the bulk of the damage and possible loss of life will likely come from the 9-foot storm surge or up to 40 inches of rain that meteorologists are predicting.
- High winds and floodwaters could knock power out for several days, if not longer, officials said.
North Carolina's governor, Roy Cooper, said Florence was set to cover nearly all of the state in several feet of water.
Florence has prompted massive evacuations.
With their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter's one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. "Don't risk your life riding out a monster storm".
"I just hope that people will not decide to write off the storm, and that's the most important thing to save peoples's lives". The storm may gradually drift into northeast SC. "Now is the time to go because that window of opportunity is closing on you very quickly".
"There is still time to leave", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told "CBS This Morning" on Thursday. "Play in the water, enjoy the sunshine".
We will continue to see conditions deteriorate tonight through Saturday.
She continued: "Of course we're anxious". But we're watching the news every day.
"There's no backing down on the magnitude of this storm in relation to where it's going to hit", Bastardi said.
On Thursday night, city officials in Jacksonville, North Carolina, posted photos of a toppled gas pump and a downed tree after wind gusts exceeded 80 miles per hour, warning residents to stay indoors as the hurricane passes. "So will the power lines, as the trees fall down".
Her neighbors gave her the key to their house, which is two stories and might be safer from flooding, she said. "I can take care of all of that", Chris Johnson told ABC News.
"I'm anxious about what I might find when I go home, though", she said. "It's probably good for our marriage". "But I think it'll be OK". I'm glad we both came to the decision ourselves. Hopefully, the cell phone tower, which is not too far away, will still work.
Severe inland flooding is also forecast for the Palmetto State, which is expected to see Florence drift through its Pee Dee, Midlands and Upstate regions on Saturday and Sunday.
8 a.m.: A flash flood warning is in effect for Wayne and Wilson counties until 2 p.m.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, tropical depression Olivia is bringing rain and flash flooding to Hawaii.