And that's just the prelude to untold days of misery.
Though Florence won't be making landfall until Friday, tropical-storm-force winds - 39 to 73 miles per hour (63 to 117 km/h) - will begin whipping through coastal regions as early as tomorrow, making it exceptionally risky to be outside, Graham said.
"It's going to be bad", said Woody White, chairman of the New Hanover County Commissioners.
"People do not live and survive to tell the tale about what their experience is like with storm surge", Long said.
Even worse: Florence is expected to hover over the Carolinas, whipping hurricane-force winds and dumping relentless rain at least through Saturday. That's enough to fill more than 15 million Olympic-size swimming pools. As the storm moves inland, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland will also be in peril.
Hurricane conditions will likely hit on Friday, but tropical storm conditions will arrive on Thursday, according to the hurricane center. Yesterday officials in Beaufort County, home to Hilton Head Island, held a news conference and urged people to leave voluntarily.
As of Tuesday, more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.
Their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughters one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte.
Mayor Joe Benson said the storm will batter the oceanside town through two high tide periods. It's possible that a storm surge between one and three feet may impact coastal Chesapeake Bay areas. "Flooding is nearly guaranteed".
At the time of this writing, Florence is moving toward the eastern United States at 15 miles per hour (24 km/h) with a decrease in forward speed. She packed up what she could and took a ferry. Most of the rain for the western half of the state will come from Sunday through the first half of next week.
Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.
Ahead of what is projected to be massive devastation for several Southeast states, NASA has released high-definition footage of the storm as viewed from the International Space Station above the Atlantic Ocean. "Everyone was sold out", she said. We're fully prepared, food, medical, everything you can imagine, we are ready.
TRACKING FLORENCE: Stay with The Weather Network online and on T.V. for our exclusive coverage of the storm. "Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 80 miles (130 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles (815 km)". His remarks fell flat in Puerto Rico where islanders are continuing to struggle to recover a year after the Category 4 storm.