Tuesday afternoon, lanes were reversed on USA 501 and three other SC highways as residents of the coastal area fled from Hurricane Florence, a raging tropical cyclone that is expected to deliver a crippling blow to a large swath of the Mid-Atlantic Coast and inland areas today (Thursday) and tomorrow.
Businesses and homes in the storm's path were boarded up and thousands of people had moved to emergency shelters, officials said, urging anyone who remained near the coast to flee.
Overnight, Florence went through an "eyewall replacement cycle", senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said in an update from the hurricane center on Tuesday. Florence is expected to approach the coast in the watch area by late Thursday, and then meander around coastal North Carolina through the upcoming weekend.
At 11 p.m. EDT, the storm's center was located about 465 miles (750 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda and about 1,085 miles (1745 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. With little wind shear to pull the storm apart, hurricane-strength winds have been expanding to 40 miles (64 kilometres) from the eye of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds 150 miles from the centre.
Ahead of Florence's arrival, barrier islands were already seeing risky rip currents and seawater flowed over a state highway - the harbinger of a storm surge that could wipe out dunes and submerge entire communities.
"A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that make outside preparations hard or risky", the warning states.
Hurricane Florence will approach the coast of North Carolina and SC on Thursday or Friday.
"Life-threatening flash floods" are now being predicted as the storm brings "very heavy, prolonged rainfall" across a large portion of the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic, said a tweet from the National Hurricane Center.
"Inland flooding will be a major threat and something people far from the landfall location should be concerned about", CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
At this height of the Atlantic hurricane season, Florence was being trailed on east-to-west paths by two other storms, Helene and Isaac. Combined with high tides, the storm surge could swell as high as 12 feet.
While much of the attention on Hurricane Florence has been centered around its potentially devastating effects on the coast, officials are warning area residents it could have significant impact in Stokes County. The Category 4 storm destroyed 15,000 buildings and killed 19 people in North Carolina.
However, Hubbard said Florence is not expected to have any impact on Canada, given its predicted track into the USA mainland, where it will likely weaken considerably on the weekend.
Hurricane #Florence continues to strengthen, max winds are now 140 miles per hour.
Gentry encouraged residents to be prepared for the storm by Wednesday evening and as it closes in, to stay at home.
"While some weakening is expected on Thursday, Florence is expected to be an extremely risky major hurricane through landfall". He says that "over the years the state government and the federal government have become very coordinated in their ability to manage the pre-deployment of assets (and) the response to the citizens of those states, and we will soon be into the recovery".
North Carolina has the highest property and casualty insured premiums of the three states at $16 billion, followed by Virginia at $13.6 billion, and SC at $9.5 billion, according to Citi.
Liz Browning Fox was planning to ride out the storm on the Outer Banks, defying evacuation orders. "If we try to leave, we'll just get stuck in the rain", she said. He said electric power could be out for weeks.