People fleeing North and SC clogged coastal highways early Wednesday as Hurricane Florence, a monster Category 4 storm, bore down on the United States east coast for a direct hit in a low-lying region dense with beachfront vacation homes.
"The latest tracking report from the National Hurricane Center released at 8 p.m. showed the eye of Florence about 335 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina". The storm, expected to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday, may trigger "catastrophic flash flooding", the National Weather Service said.
Florence is rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
Scientists are trying to get the most accurate information to forecast exactly where the storm will go.
TIMELINE | Florence now looks to menace parts of Georgia; When will we see its effects? The NHC said the storm, described as "an extremely unsafe major hurricane", might push a "life-threatening" surge of seawater ashore into some areas.
Analytics firm CoreLogic predicts that the damage from Florence could be more than $170 billion - making it the most expensive hurricane to hit the continental U.S. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition.
"Hurricane and storm surge watches now blanket much of the SC and North Carolina coasts, and enormous rainfall totals could be in store for coastal areas as well as inland".
John Kinney, chief claims officer at Hartford, said three-quarters of the small businesses hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 had to close their doors for at least a day, with the average duration being about seven days.
At the White House, President Donald Trump both touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way of Florence.
"This one is different", North Carolina's Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents, "Don't bet your life on riding out a monster".
Emergency preparations in the area included activating 2,800 National Guard troops in North Carolina, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so that major roads led away from shore and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the three-state region.
And if that isn't enough, Subtropical Storm Joyce formed in the North Atlantic Tuesday afternoon, but it's not expected to hit the U.S. The system is expected to drift to the southwest in the coming days.
In addition to giving residents enough time to make it out, North and SC have enacted emergency price-gouging laws to keep business and gas stations from upping their prices in the lead-up to Florence's arrival.
Jeff Byard of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was imperative locals heed the evacuation warnings.
Areas along the coast from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, NC, including the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo and Bay rivers may experience storm surges from 9 to 13 feet.
"They told me to bring a pillow and blanket", Whisler said.
"The concern is about people who are very young or very old, who don't have much money or access to transportation, who do not speak the predominant language or have access to information", Thomas Tighe, of Direct Relief, said.