Chavez Gallegos helps his family move out of a flooded home in Kinston, N.C., in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.(Travis Long / Raleigh News & Observer)
A road is washed out by the rains from Hurricane Florence as it passed through the area in Fayetteville, N.C.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Flood waters from Hurricane Florence surround a house and flow along the street in Fayetteville, N.C.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
A man moves his horses from rising water in Lumberton, N.C., following flooding from now Tropical Depression Florence.(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)
Helen McKoy walks down a flooded street in her neighborhood as Florence continues to dump heavy rain in Fayetteville, N.C.(David Goldman / Associated Press)
Homes along the New River are flooded as a result of high tides and rain from Hurricane Florence, which moved through the area in Jacksonville, N.C.(Steve Helber / Associated Press)
Members of the North Carolina Task Force urban search and rescue team wade through a flooded neighborhood looking for residents who stayed behind as Florence continues to dump heavy rain in Fayetteville, N.C.(David Goldman / Associated Press)
Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence rush down Cool Spring Street, inundating the St. James Church in Fayetteville, N.C.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA / Shutterstock)
Erick Martinez grills chicken on the porch of his home as floodwaters from Hurricane Florence rise in the Magnolia Mobile Home Park north of Lumberton, N.C.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA / Shutterstock)
A resident walks from his flooded house toward the crew of the Cajun Navy in Lumberton, N.C.(Alex Edelman / AFP/Getty Images)
A boat pushed ashore by Hurricane Florence rests in front of a damaged home in New Bern, N.C.(Gray Whitley / Associated Press)
Floodwaters surround buildings on Front Street in downtown Swansboro N.C.(Tom Copeland / Associated Press)
A sign asks for prayer Friday in Lumberton, N.C., as Florence bears down(David Goldman / Associated Press)
High winds toppled a scoreboard, knocked down a wall and uprooted trees, crushing a car, at a baseball field in New Bern, N.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
A section of an exit ramp on Highway 17 was washed away when Florence hit new Bern, N.C., as a Category 1 hurricane.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
A man makes a phone call from the front porch of his home surrounded by floodwaters in Jacksonville, N.C.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
A store awning partially ripped away by high winds in Myrtle Beach, S.C.(Alex Edelman / AFP/Getty Images)
A mother and her infant were killed Friday when a massive tree fell on their house in Wilmington, N.C. They were the first reported fatalities from Hurricane Florence.(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteers help rescue residents and their pets from flooded homes Friday in New Bern, N.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Homes are flooded after a surge from Hurricane Florence flooded the Neuse River in New Bern, N.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The Trent River (background) overflows its banks and floods a neighborhood during Hurricane Florence in River Bend, N.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
People walk through the high winds from Hurricane Florence in downtown Swansboro N.C.(Tom Copeland / Associated Press)
Mike Kiernan takes photos of the damage to his home in Wilmington, N.C.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
A woman holds a baby as she watches rising flood waters on the Cape Fear River during Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C.(ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP / Getty Images)
Members of the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 4 from Oakland search a flooded neighborhood for evacuees in Fairfield Harbour, N.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Sam Parks walks through flooded Water Street as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in Wilmington, N.C.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)
Kite Boarder Dimitri Maramenides heads out next to Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, N.C.(L. Todd Spencer / The Virginian-Pilot)
Residents drive through flooded Water Street as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in Wilmington, N.C.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)
Wind and water from Hurricane Florence damages the highway leading off Harkers Island, N.C.(Jordan Guthrie / Associated Press)
Residents look at downed trees as Hurricane Florence passes over Wilmington, N.C.(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters arrive at a home where a large tree fell and trapped three people in Wilmington, N.C. One man was taken out of the home in critical condition, and the condition of the others is unknown.(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
A boat is wedged in trees during Hurricane Florence in Oriental, N.C.(Angie Propst / Associated Press)
Rescue workers rush a man to an ambulance after a giant tree toppled onto his house, killing two other people when Hurricane Florence came ashore in Wilmington, N.C.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)
Mitchell Floor, left, holds a flashlight as Comfort Suites general manager Beth Bratz, center, and employee Dee Branch go to make coffee as Hurricane Florence rages in Wilmington, N.C.(Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)
Waves slam the Oceanana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C.(Travis Long / Associated Press)
Electric poles that snapped in half sway from their wires as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in Wilmington, N.C.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)
A sign warns people away from Union Point Park after it was flooded by the Neuse River in New Bern, N.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The awning of a Shell gas station was torn off when Hurricane Florence came ashore in Wilmington, N.C.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)
Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home in James City, N.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home in James City, N.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Linda Deem walks along the beach as winds from Hurricane Florence are felt in Myrtle Beach, S.C(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Linda Stephens checks out the weather as the force of Hurricane Florence is beginning to be felt in Myrtle Beach, S.C.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Portions of a boat dock and boardwalk are destroyed by powerful wind and waves as Hurricane Florence arrives in Atlantic Beach. Coastal cities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under evacuation orders.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Michael Nelson floats in a boat made from a metal tub and fishing floats after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded his street during Hurricane Florence in New Bern, N.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
A child sits on a mattress at a Hurricane Florence evacuation shelter at Conway High School in Conway, S.C.(Alex Edelman / AFP/Getty Images)
Alejandra Rubio comforts her daughter Sarahi Ramos on Thursday in their hotel room in Wilmington, N.C., where they will wait out Hurricane Florence.(Robert Gourley / For The Times )
Cyrus Lewis watches the surf roll up on the beach beneath the Avon Fishing Pier as the first effects of Hurricane Florence reach Hatteras Island, N.C.(Steve Earley / Virginian-Pilot)
Beachgoers take in the scenery in Atlantic Beach, N.C., on Wednesday as Hurricane Florence threatens.(Travis Long / Raleigh News & Observer)
The Ramos family prepares dinner and watches the weather forecast in their hotel room Thursday night in Wilmington, N.C., where they will wait out Hurricane Florence.(Robert Gourley/ For The Times )
Vickie Grate, left, waits in a shelter with her son Chris, center, and his girlfriend, Sarah, after evacuating from their homes in Conway, S.C., on Wednesday.(David Goldman / Associated Press)
Doug Lewis, left, and Chris Williams cover the windows of Knuckleheads Bar and Grill in Myrtle Beach, S.C.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
A statue of Poseidon stands along the boardwalk in Morehead City, N.C., on Wednesday. Many coastal areas in Virginia and the Carolinas are under evacuation orders.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Sunset on the Isle of Palms, S.C., on Wednesday. Hurricane Florence has weakened slightly, but is still expected to cause potentially life-threatening storm surge and flooding.(Mic Smith / Associated Press)
Boats are dry-docked at the Wrightsville Yacht Club on Wednesday in Wrightsville Beach, N.C.(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
The Lager Heads Tavern is secured on Tuesday as locals prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Wrightsville Beach, N.C.(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
A satellite image provided by NASA and the European Space Agency shows Hurricane Florence on Wednesday as it churns through the Atlantic Ocean toward the East Coast.(NASA)
Willy Cortright, foreground, and Erik Barfield, on roof, cover the windows of a home with plywood panels in Beaufort, N.C. Both said they planned to ride out the storm on the coast.(Robert Gourley / For The Times)
Sandbags surround homes on North Topsail Beach, N.C.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Poolside furniture is placed in the pool of a hotel before the storm arrived in Myrtle Beach, S.C.(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
A mandatory evacuation is in effect in Topsail Beach, N.C.(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
Daniel Vaughn, left, and Frank Murphy fill sandbags while preparing for Florence in Wrightsville Beach, N.C.(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
Sunrise in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., two days ahead of the predicted landfall of Hurricane Florence.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)
The bread aisle at Walmart is empty two days before Hurricane Florence is expected to strike Wilmington, N.C.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)
Johnny Mercer’s Fishing Pier juts into the Atlantic Ocean two days before Hurricane Florence is expected to strike Wrightsville Beach, N.C.(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)
Chuck Ledford, left, watches “Looney Tunes” with his daughter, Misty, as they evacuate ahead of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C.(Caitlin Penna / EPA/Shutterstock)
Jacob Whitehead, left, and Matt Jones hit golf balls into the surf as Hurricane Florence approaches in Wrightsville Beach, N.C.(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
People evacuate ahead of Hurricane Florence as they seek shelter at Emma B. Trask Middle School in Wilmington, N.C.(Caitlin Penna / EPA/Shutterstock)
Hundreds of thousands of residents from three states were told Tuesday to evacuate the Southeast coastline as Hurricane Florence barreled toward the Carolinas with 140-mph winds.
As more than 1 million people faced mandatory evacuation orders in coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, the westbound lanes of roads and interstates leading out of cities from Charleston, S.C., to Wilmington, N.C., were clogged with cars, SUVs, trucks and trailers hauling fishing boats, kayaks, bikes, caravans, Adirondack chairs, firewood and bales of hay.
“This storm is a monster. It’s big and it’s vicious,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. “The waves and the wind this storm may bring is nothing like you’ve ever seen. Even if you’ve ridden out other storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”
Not everyone, though, was clamoring to get out, even with the storm expected to make landfall Thursday or Friday.
As workers hammered sheets of plywood to the Edge of Urge boutique and a French bistro on Market Street in the port city of Wilmington, Ava Onan, 14, strolled in the sunshine near the Cape Fear River with a friend.
“It’s always so nice before the storm,” the high school student said as she dug a spoon into a cup of blueberry waffle-cone ice cream. “It’s so quiet!”
Like many residents, Onan did not plan to leave. She said she would hunker down with her family at her grandmother’s home, a historic mansion on Orange Street.
“It’s going to be bad, but we’ve been through hurricanes before,” she said with a shrug. “That house has been through Fran and two other hurricanes.”
On Tuesday evening, Florence was about 725 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph — a Category 4 hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane warning and storm surge warnings Tuesday for a long stretch of the coast from South Santee River, S.C., to Duck, N.C., and Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. A tropical storm watch was also in effect north of the North Carolina-Virginia state line to Cape Charles Light, Va., and in Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Florence was “setting up to be a devastating event” in the Carolinas and central Virginia.
“The biggest hazard that we are worried about is storm surge,” he said. “That’s the primary driver of the evacuations that are underway.”
In South Carolina, mandatory evacuation orders took effect Tuesday for about a million residents in eight counties across the state’s 187-mile coastline. A string of coastal communities in North Carolina and Virginia have also been placed under mandatory evacuation orders.
Inland areas, meanwhile, were urged to prepare for potential flooding as Florence is forecast to deliver heavy rainfall as it slows down and moves over the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic.
After strengthening Wednesday, Florence is forecast to weaken before it makes landfall, but is still forecast to be “an extremely dangerous major hurricane,” the National Hurricane Center said in a public advisory.
Stephen Keebler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said the storm’s intensity would fluctuate.
“It’s going to be a really ominous threat anywhere across the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina,” he said. “It could certainly rival Floyd and Fran and maybe Isabel, and possibly even Hugo.”
In Wrightsville Beach, a 4-mile-long town in North Carolina made up of two islands separated by two bodies of water, officials ordered a mandatory evacuation effective Wednesday.
Still, late Tuesday afternoon many local residents were out on the beach, walking dogs, swimming, surfing and sitting in folding chairs under a cerulean sky dotted with light white puffs of clouds.
Some residents said they planned to evacuate — eventually.
“When they said the winds were going to 120 to 140 mph, I made up my mind,” Ken Ripley, 63, said as he took a break from fastening white shutters to the side windows of his blue-shingled three-story duplex — nothing separating it from the ocean but a stretch of sand and dunes.
Ripley, a retired stockbroker from Greensboro, N.C., had weathered many hurricanes and storms in the 17 years he has owned a vacation home on Wrightsville Beach. But Florence seemed different.
“120’s a deal-breaker for me,” he said of the wind speed.
President Trump told reporters he expected Hurricane Florence could be one of the worst storms in decades, and urged people living in evacuation areas to heed warnings from local officials.
“The safety of the American people is my absolute highest priority,” Trump said. “We are sparing no expense.… We are as ready as anybody has ever been.”
Trump, who received sharp criticism for the federal response to the devastation caused last year by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, said authorities were “totally prepared” for a major hurricane.
Trump said the government response in Puerto Rico, where nearly 3,000 people are believed to have died as a result of the hurricane, was an “incredible, unsung success.”
9:15 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times reporting.
12:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details and reaction.
This article was originally published at 7:55 a.m.