Faced with new forecasts that showed a more southerly threat, Georgia's governor joined his counterparts in Virginia and North and SC in declaring a state of emergency, and some residents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes.
At 2:20 a.m. EDT (0230 UTC) on September 13, Moderate Resolution Imagine Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite analyzed Hurricane Florence in infrared light. Most other beachgoers were long done.
"They have a history of being underwater". "Flooding is nearly guaranteed". Despite the fact that the hurricane has been downgraded to Category 2, the 80 miles per hour winds and coastal flooding will still cause significant damage throughout the southeast.
Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.
The trend is "exceptionally bad news", said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it "smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge".
As of 8 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said Florence was centered about 170 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 220 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. When and where it will make landfall is unclear.
The power companies expect millions of people to be without power for days.
Forecasters said Florence's eye could come ashore early Friday around the North Carolina-South Carolina line.
About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said. Because the storm was so strong earlier in the week, it built up a wall of water which will push inland as the storm surge.
As the hurricane closed in, some residents wondered whether to ride it out.
McMaster told residents in some counties that emergency responders will be pulled from areas expected to be hit hard.
Mayor Joe Benson of Carolina Beach, a small town near Wilmington with a permanent population of about 6,300, said he believes half of the residents have stayed on the island.
In Wilmington, Richard King, 64, said Wednesday that he, his wife and perhaps 60 of their neighbors planned to stay. It had maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour (215 kmh).
"We're a good community up there. We're going to be there to help", Cooper said.
People on barrier islands or peninsulas were running out of time Wednesday to retreat by bridge or ferry.
"Hurricane Florence was uninvited but she's just about here anyway", he said at a news conference. She packed up what she could and took a ferry Tuesday night.
"Honestly, it tears me up thinking that what if in the end of this, this is all we have left", Jones said.
There was also concern over crops.
Sweet said he thinks Hurricane Florence could cause the US economy's growth to slow a few tenths of a percentage point, on an annual basis, in the July-September quarter. The more the Great Lakes one wins, the more southerly Florence will be.
Emergency preparations included activating more than 2,700 National Guard troops, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so major roads led away from shore, and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the Carolinas and Virginia.
The Carolinas have begun to face the effects of Hurricane Florence, as heavy rainbands with tropical-storm-force winds have started to spread across the outer banks and coastal southeastern North Carolina.
Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.
Florence's expanse has even captured the attention of the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station, who have been tweeting pictures of the storm back to Earth. "If God's coming for you, you can't run from him".