RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday that around 108 shelters are open across North Carolina and more are expected to open as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast. 

“Please hear my message: We cannot underestimate this storm. Wind speeds may have dropped from yesterday, but we’ve traded that for a larger wind field that expands 200 miles with tropical storm force winds,” Cooper said.  

More than 7,000 people have been evacuated to shelters across the state, which includes the 14,400-seat LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem. 

Around 6,400 members of the National Guard are on duty between North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Just under 3,000 of those are in North Carolina.

The hurricane has lost some strength since Wednesday but has grown in size. 

“We’re on the wrong side of this thing. This storm will bring destruction to our state,” Cooper said. 

It is forecast to make landfall in North Carolina around Wilmington as a Category 2 storm. 

“Catastrophic effects will be felt outside the center of the storm due to storm surge as high as 9-13 feet. That is the second story of the house,” the governor said. 

Duke Energy is predicting millions will be without power in Florence’s aftermath. The Utility has hundreds of crews on standby to restore power. 

Cooper said power outages could last for days, even weeks and he warned that North Carolinians need to take the storm seriously and be smart.

“North Carolina needs to stay alert and continue to take this storm seriously,” he said. “No mater where you live, don’t drive through roads covered in standing water. If you encounter a flooded road, turn around.”

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen reiterated three important messages for residents to remember:

  1. Be prepared with food, water, safety kids and medications
  2. Do not drive through standing water — it was the leading cause of death during Hurricane Matthew
  3. Do not use gas-powered generators inside your home

Cooper said the North Carolina Department of Transportation will work with local officials to make sure people are not allowed to drive through flooded roads. He warned that flash flooding will create an immediate threat.

Wind speeds dropped to 105 mph with the 11 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, but heavy rain leading to flooding will be the biggest issue.

“It’s going to be a lot…we’re on the bad side of the storm,” Cooper said of rain totals. He said his team is confident in their predictions that Hurricane Florence will bring major rainfall, causing intense flooding.

Cooper said it’s important for residents to remember that recovery is not a quick process.

“Recovery from a hurricane is a long-term effort and there is still more work to do from Hurricane Matthew,” he said.

Officials are asking residents to only call 911 for emergencies. You can dial 211 or (888) 892-1162 for information on the storm and drivers can check drivenc.gov for traffic information.