Florence was seen as a major test for FEMA, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared past year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which was blamed for almost 3,000 deaths.
President Donald Trump both touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way.
"I'm not going to put our personnel in harm's way, especially for people that we've already told to evacuate, " Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said. "Whether you have a house or not, when the storm comes it will bring everyone together. It's called Mother Nature, you never know, but we know". Meteorologists at the National Weather Service's Wilmington office are waiting for the National Hurricane Center to confirm the track of the eyeball, which typically has the storm's strongest winds.
"The time to prepare is nearly over", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a morning news conference.
"Watch out, America! #HurricaneFlorence is so enormous, we could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens from the @Space_Station, 400 km directly above the eye", German astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted. "Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other risky conditions", the hurricane center briefing said. "We will work with the OIG".
Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan on the economic impact of Hurricane Florence, the state of the US economy.
"It truly is really about the whole size of this storm, " National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. But he said the agency is in close coordination with the states and was "well positioned and ready to respond to the needs of our citizens".
Earlier this month, a Government Accountability Office report found that FEMA's "available workforce was overwhelmed by the response needs", following a string of disasters a year ago, including hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as wildfires in California.
In Morehead City, Jim Howell, 65, said he and his wife, Betsy, have lived through about 10 hurricanes, evacuating only once.
The Coast Guard said ocean-going vessels were told to prepare to leave.
In addition, one of the top posts at FEMA, that of deputy administrator, remains unfilled. Homeland Security officials say Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are focused on the preservation of life and safety.
But, knowing the intensity of Florence's impact on Myrtle Beach, "My friends are worrying me right now", Combs said.
In some ways, Hurricane Florence should be an easier disaster to manage than Maria was in Puerto Rico.
Two people died in 2015 and nearby homes and businesses experienced an estimated $20 million in damage after an area downstream flooded, the newspaper reported. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and that restoring it could take weeks.
"Between 3 and 8 p.m. - that's when we'll really see the winds topping out", Schwenneker said.
The simulation even includes a vehicle floating behind her as Navarro warns that rising water levels "could even float some cars".
It said the additional declaration would bring more federal help with debris removal, search and rescue teams, meals and generators, among other items.
Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic.