WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. — Hurricane Florence is closing in on the East Coast, ready to deliver what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is calling "a Mike Tyson punch" starting in about 24 hours.
Hurricane, tropical-storm and storm-surge watches and warnings now cover 10 million people fromto Virginia.
Florence was downgraded Wednesday to a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph. But the storm, nearly 300 miles wide, is expected to pick up strength over the warm waters of the Atlantic before making landfall.
Nearly 2 million residents have been told to evacuate and head to safer ground.
Doug Gilstrap has lived through every hurricane in the area for the last 30 years. As the evacuation orders throughout the region were about to take effect, he told us once his boat is secured — as secure as anything can be in a storm like Florence — he's heading a few miles inland, where he is hoping for the best.
"If it comes ashore 4 plus or a 5, I'm leaving," Gilstrap said.
Florence is bearing down with such strength that forecasters say she may literally reshape the Carolina coastline.
We started the day in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we met Gov. Roy Cooper at the state's emergency operations center.
"I'm very concerned about this storm," Cooper said.
The governor wants to avoid atwo years ago, which killed 26 North Carolinians. Predictions are for Florence to be far more violent storm.
"We're ready," Cooper said. "We're trying to get those last stragglers off of the barrier islands."
We found Ronald Batts gassing up and planning to stay put. The 81-year-old barber closed his shop and is planning to hunker down at home with his disabled 77-year-old wife.
"I feel just as safe at home as I would at a shelter," Batts said.
And in the path of where Florence is expected to make landfall, Gordon Reddick — also a hurricane veteran of Bertha, Fran, Bonnie, Hanna — believes he can wait out yet another storm.
"Well, we've had too many of them, I'm not scared," he said.