"Dangerous" Florence has maximum sustained winds of 130mph and will be a Category 4 storm when it makes landfall on Friday morning. "It's a big one".
"But despite that, bad things can happen when you are talking about a storm this size", he added.
The National Hurricane Center's best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.
More than 1.5 million people have been ordered to evacuate along 300 miles of coastline.
"Just because we have a landfall to your south, that doesn't mean you're out of the woods, because the winds are huge around this system", NHC Director Ken Graham said, pointing out the wide risk of flooding.
Life-threatening storm surges of up to 13 feet (3.9 meters) were also forecast in some areas of North Carolina along with the possibility of tornadoes.
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said storm surge warnings have not changed despite the weakening intensity of the winds.
The NHC said the storm was on a trajectory that showed its centre most likely to strike the southern coast of North Carolina by Friday. Now hurricane "Florence" waiting in Washington, where he also declared a state of emergency.
Hurricane Florence is on track to blast the southeastern USA coast with ferocious winds and rain, but it may also swamp hog manure pits and coal ash dumps, spreading their toxins; as well as inundate nuclear reactors in the region, according to news reports.
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The eastbound lanes of several major highways have been shut down to allow traffic to flow inland, but the exodus was slow along roads jammed with outward-bound vehicles.
Jeff Byard, FEMA associate administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery, called Florence "a very unsafe storm".
"He was thinking of coming here until this morning, and now he asked me if I wanted to come up there", he said.
"We hope to have something left when we get home", she said.
"I rode out Hugo", Miller said of a 1989 hurricane that caused widespread damage. Home Depot and Lowe's activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm.
"Hugo was a direct hit", he said. "I've got four cats inside the house. We have everything. We're ready".
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned that "disaster is at the doorstep", and "tens of thousands" of buildings may be flooded.
Lt. Col. Lindy White, an Oklahoma National Guard spokeswoman, said officials from East Coast states are expected to request additional assistance in the days to come.
State and federal officials have frequently urged residents in the target zone to evacuate but there was resistance along the coast.
He cautioned residents to closely monitor Hurricane Florence.