Highways clogged with people fleeing North and SC early Wednesday as monstrous Category 4 Hurricane Florence rumbled toward the eastern U.S. as the biggest storm there in decades.
"Heed the warnings", Byard said.
Hurricane Florence is blasting toward the Carolinas, carrying sustained winds of up to 130 miles per hour and the threat of "life-threatening storm surge and rainfall", the National Hurricane Center says.
We'll keep you updated on this system in the coming days.
Some 38cm (15in) to 64cm (25in) of rain is forecast in some areas - with up to one metre (40in) at the centre of the storm.
The storm could cause a life-threatening storm surge, essentially walls of water, ahead of landfall which is why FEMA warns that Wednesday is the last feasible day to evacuate areas vulnerable to the storm.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said, 'The time to prepare is nearly over.
As for people staying put, the authorities used to advise that people get three days' worth of supplies, but now it's best to get two weeks' worth of supplies, Sue Anne Bell, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of MI, told Live Science.
But a weather formation known as a high-pressure ridge is parked over the U.S. East coast, preventing Florence from doing the normal turn, said University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy.
President Trump says the Federal Emergency Management Agency and first responders are poised to help - but he also warned people to get out of the storm's path. Governors in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia have issued mandatory evacuations and lane reversals.More news: Bishop Michael Bransfield resigns; sexual harassment investigation launched
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Even with some weakening that's predicted just before it makes landfall, the storm "is expected to remain a risky major hurricane as it approaches the coastline", the hurricane center said.
At 11am local time on Wednesday (early Thursday AEST), the storm was located about 785km southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina. "We'll handle it. We're ready, we're able".
FEMA Administrator Brock Long urged people to prepare for a "very devastating storm", with possibly weeks-long power outages. "This is not going to be a glancing blow", Byard explained.
For a swath of the North Carolina shore from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, the storm surge could range from 9-13 feet, the NHC said.
Senior National Hurricane Center specialist Stacy Stewart said the impacts of the storm will cover a wide area "regardless of exactly where the center of Florence moves".
Abigail Darlington, covers the city of Charleston for the South Carolina Post and Courier.
Michael Kennedy, an engineer at Boeing, said he planned to leave for his parents' home in Atlanta, Georgia.
"We hope to have something left when we get home", she said.
"They told me to bring a pillow and blanket", Whisler said.