The Miami-based center says the center of the eye moved ashore with top sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), making Florence a Category 1 hurricane in terms of wind intensity.
Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 story late Thursday, and now contains maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour with higher gusts.
"Some of the rainfall totals we're getting are already adding up to about 14 inches", NHC Director Ken Graham said shortly after 11 a.m. ET.
In all, the US military said it positioned about 9,600 USA service members, including 6,570 National Guard personnel, at various bases across the Southeast, along with helicopters and high-wheeled vehicles, in order to mount Hurricane Florence relief efforts.
The center of the storm will make landfall near Wilmington early Friday morning. "Little rough but we're all out", a tweet said.
Given the storm's size and slow speed, officials warned that Florence could cause similar large-scale flood damage to that seen in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago. Hurricane-force winds extended 90 miles (150 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometers).
The slow-moving storm is expected to linger over the Carolinas, causing government authorities to worry that heavy rainfall, rather than high winds, will pose the largest hazard.
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A state of emergency has been declared in five coastal states - North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia.
In Jacksonville, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull people out of the Triangle Motor Inn after the cinderblock structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse.
A North Carolina city situated between two rivers says it has around 150 people waiting to be rescued from rising flood waters from Hurricane Florence.
More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it is not clear how many left. Florence is expected to arrive in southeast North Carolina on Friday morning before drifting south into SC. Carolina Beach, a small community of roughly 6,300 residents and a vacation destination for many North Carolinians, has about 1,000 residents staying behind, according to a Fox News report.
Around midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City.
More than 3,000 inmates at North Carolina prisons and juvenile detention centers were moved out of the storm's path.
Fox News correspondent Steve Harrigan reported Friday afternoon in extreme wind and rain from Hurricane Florence in North Topsail Beach, North Carolina, which is bearing the brunt of the storm's impact.
On Friday, the storm's center will hug the coast of southeast North Carolina, where the most severe effects are expected.