The outer bands of Hurricane Florence began battering the coasts of North and South Carolina on Thursday with strong winds and rain, and forecasters said the worst of storm was on the way.
As of late Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said Florence was 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, with top sustained winds of 155 kph (96 mph).
Forecasters said the storm would wash ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina border as a Category 2 hurricane, weaker than the Category 4 of just two days ago.
But it was the storm's movement, not its strength, that had forecasters and officials worried.
Florence was moving toward land at a scant 7 kph (4 mph), giving it more time to churn, suck up water, batter the coast and bring massive amounts of rain inland.
Do not focus on the wind speed category of #Hurricane #Florence! Life-threatening storm surge flooding, catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding are still expected. More: https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter.com/eiD4c8pkRx— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 13, 2018
Forecasters predicted as much as 101 centimeters (40 inches) of rain for some parts of North Carolina and storm surges as high as 4 meters (13 feet). Tornadoes were also possible.
The Pentagon dispatched two ships and a Marine unit offshore to provide help if needed. It also moved most ships, submarines and planes out of their base at Hampton Roads, Virginia, to safety far at sea or at distant airbases.
Rescue helicopters and trucks that can navigate floodwaters were also standing by.
Officials said anyone who had not heeded mandatory evacuation orders was on his own.
"The idea of having to leave with my two cats and go somewhere for a week or more ... once you leave, you don't know how many days it will be before you can return," a Wilmington resident named Kate told VOA.
Another Wilmington resident said she didn't want to leave because she was afraid to see what she would be coming back to.
The police chief of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, suggested that those who decided to stay give him their next-of-kin contact.
President Donald Trump said protecting lives was his "absolute highest priority" and that the White House was standing by to offer affected states whatever help they asked for.
"We'll handle it. We're ready. We're able," he said. "We're fully prepared. Food, medical, everything you can imagine, we are ready."
Florence was forecast to significantly weaken Saturday, when it will crawl across central South Carolina. But residents inland were warned to expect life-threatening floods and to plan to be without power for days.
Parts of the mid-Atlantic can also expect heavy rains from what is left of Florence well into next week.
WATCH: Officials Urge Evacuation Before Unpredictable Hurricane