The hurricane center is forecasting the storm to hover near the coast Saturday with winds of around 80 miles per hour (130 kph) before landfall, but with rainfall in the 20 to 30 inches (50 to 75 centimeter) range and up to 13 feet (nearly 4 meters) of storm surge.
"For a meandering storm, the biggest concern - as we saw with Harvey - is the huge amount rainfall", said Chris Landsea, chief of tropical analysis and forecast branch at the National Hurricane Center.
Joyce, which is about 1,040 miles from the Azores, is moving south-southwest near 7 mph.
It has an atmospheric pressure of 957 hectopascals at its center, and is packing winds of up to 176 kilometers per hour.
Of three named tropical systems, Hurricane Florence is by far the most unsafe.
"In most hurricanes, we worry about our line and equipment being blown down to the ground", said Pettit.
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.
The National Hurricane Center expects Florence to weaken below Category 4 status before coming ashore near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Seventy people had to be pulled from a collapsing hotel at the height of the storm, and many more who defied evacuation orders were hoping to be rescued.
Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but then reconsidered. Forecasters said this onslaught could last for days, leaving a wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising seas.
Rain bands with tropical-storm-force winds have moved onshore over the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
A woman walks her bike across a street near a boarded up bar a day before the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington.
"Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience". Millions of people were expected to lose power from the storm and restoration could take weeks.
Prisoners were affected, too.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, concerned the storm would bring its devastation south, issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in his state.
So far, it's estimate more than 1.7 million Americans have heeded the warnings about Hurricane Florence.
"Tropical storm conditions are expected to spread inland across the remainder of the warning area through Saturday", the NHC said.
Around midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City.
SC authorities said law enforcement officers were guarding against looting in evacuated areas, while Wilmington set a curfew on Saturday evening in response to looting in one area.
The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast in areas of onshore winds, where the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves. The hurricane centre said Florence will approach the coast on Friday and linger for a while before rolling ashore. The more it stalls, the more it rains.
Most of Georgia is included in a cone of possible impact from the powerful storm, which has been downgraded to Category 3 but that is expected to cause significant damage as it moves off the Atlantic Ocean.
The storm will slow down because of pushback from a trough - an extended area of low atmospheric pressure - now over Texas, Stacy Stewart, an NHC senior hurricane specialist, said in the update.
President Donald Trump said there was nothing to fear because his administration did such good work responding to last year's storms - including Hurricane Maria, which killed 3,000 people in Puerto Rico.