Tropical storm-force winds extended 195 miles (315 kilometers) from Florence's center, and hurricane-force winds reached out 70 miles (110 kilometers).
By 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the storm was about 335 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina. On Wednesday, officials said some of those shelters were at capacity, but in a statement early Thursday, county officials said they were "able to mobilize additional resources to accommodate the need for shelter space".
Officials found a basketball-sized hole in the hotel wall and other life-threatening damage, with some cinder blocks crumbling and parts of the roof collapsing.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves almost 30 feet (9 metres) high as Florence churned toward shore. More than one million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of North and SC and Virginia and thousands moved to emergency shelters, officials said.
He said there are about 7,000 U.S. military forces now in place and ready to respond to the storm - along with ships, helicopters and high-wheeled vehicles. "But they may not be that much different in terms of wind speed", said Luettich. "The storm surge forecast associated with this storm has not changed".More news: FDA Gets Tough on Juul, Other E-Cigarette Makers
It's the slow movement that could result in what the National Weather Service for Newport and Morehead City, North Carolina called possible "historical rainfall amounts" with "UNPRECEDENTED flooding".
There is also a "slight" risk of tornadoes in the coastal region of North Carolina.
Forecasters said conditions would only get more lethal when the storm smashed ashore early on Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and crawled slowly inland. It is expected start affecting North Carolina and SC as early as September 13.
The storm's center was about 145 miles (235 km) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as of Thursday night.More news: 'It Wants to Get Stronger': NOAA Hurricane Hunter Flies into Florence
And if Florence weren't enough, other storms out there are threatening people.
Gillikin says the North Carolina Coastal Reserve stands ready to respond with whatever resources they can to help any animal suffering after the storm.
More than 100,000 homes are already without power as weather conditions begin to worsen.
Even though the ISS is 400km above the storm, Florence is so huge that astronauts needed a wide-angle lens to capture the storm.
The storm's intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to 90 miles per hour (135 kph) by nightfall. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet (3.4 metres) of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet (0.9 metres) of rain, touching off severe flooding.More news: Tottenham goalkeeper Lloris fined for drunk driving