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The impact of Florence will be widespread, with destructive winds, life-threatening storm surge, risky surf, torrential rainfall, flooding and the potential for tornadoes.

Five people have been killed as Florence mauls the US East Coast, knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of homes and downing trees. Emerald Isle is about 84 miles (135 kilometers) north of Wilmington.

Knight said he'd elected to stay behind while Howard and their children headed west, out of Florence's reach.

Citing a current official, Politico also reported that aides were put up in a hotel at taxpayer expense on the weekends Long was in North Carolina.

At the nearby Arthur Christian Church, Booker reports, about 20 people were praying together as the storm barreled toward the Carolinas. "Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience". Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.

In South Carolina, Gov. McMaster says at least 300,000 people have already evacuated.

More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions. A tropical storm warning covers the area from north of Duck to the Virgina Tidewater area. Ocean water flowed between homes and on to streets on the Outer Banks; waves crashed against wooden fishing piers.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC.

In the North Carolina town of Wilmington, which could take a direct hit from Florence, wind gusts were stirring up frothy white caps into the Cape Fear River. The storm's forward speed had slowed to 6 miles per hour, and forecasters were concerned it might have stalled.

Hurricane-force winds, which stretch up to 80 miles from the storm's center, will be felt in North and SC by Thursday night.

As of 9 a.m. Thursday, Florence is already making its presence felt along the coast of North Carolina.

As of 11 a.m. EDT Thursday, the system was a Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds, churning slowly about 145 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Though the storm was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane Wednesday night, with wind speeds dropping from 140 to 110 miles per hour, forecasters were still predicting a major rain and wind event for residents of Craven County.

The result could be what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago - catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, fields and industrial sites.

The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as sluggish and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a year ago. Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last September, blacked out the entire island of about 3.3 million people. Other areas, including the cities of Darlington, S.C., and Greenville, N.C., imposed their own curfews, set to begin Thursday night. If anything, we are more than likely going to have a power outage.

While some consider the economic impacts of the storm, there are others - in some cases living right down the road - who are simply hoping to make it out of the storm alive.

"This is our only home".

Bertha Bradley said she has never favored evacuating ahead of hurricanes. "We have a safe basement and generator that comes on automatically".