The outer bands of Hurricane Florence are lashing parts of the US East Coast.
Officials warn of life-threatening storm surges in both North and South Carolina as the hurricane moves towards land with maximum sustained wind speeds of 90mph (150 km/h).
More than 100,000 homes are already without power as weather conditions begin to worsen.
Officials have warned the storm has the potential to kill "a lot of people" amid risks of "catastrophic" flooding.
More than a million people along the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been ordered to evacuate.
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Thousands had taken shelter in emergency facilities by Thursday night.
Photographs showed residents crowded into corridors with blankets on inflatable mattresses and mats.
What is the latest?
Conditions deteriorated throughout Thursday as wind speeds gradually strengthened in coastal areas.
Some areas of North Carolina saw almost a foot of rain just a few hours, and footage showed sea levels begin to surge inland.
At 23:00 local time (03:00 GMT) the National Hurricane Centre said wind speeds had slightly lowered, making it a category one hurricane.
The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) says that despite the gradual lowering in wind strength, the storm remains extremely dangerous because of the high volume of rainfall and storm surges predicted.
"Inland flooding kills a lot of people unfortunately and that's what we're about to see," Fema administrator Brock Long told a news conference on Thursday morning.
He said that people living near rivers, streams and lowland areas in the region were most at risk.