Hurricane Dorian flooded the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, on Thursday, spawned destructive tornadoes in two states and threatened a whole day of fierce weather.
Dorian, a high-end Category 2 storm with sustained winds up to 110 mph, was centered over the ocean some 60 miles south of Myrtle Beach by 3 p.m. ET, looking like it would move along the coast.
The eyewall -- containing the storm's strongest winds -- is expected to move somewhere over the Carolinas' coast later in the day, even if the storm's center doesn't technically make landfall.
Rain was pummeling coastal areas including Myrtle Beach and Charleston, where streets have been flooding.
Up to 15 inches of rain could fall along the Carolinas' coasts, and storm surge could send 4 to 7 feet of water ashore, especially during the afternoon's high tide, forecasters say.
"Water's starting to rise and it's actually coming up to some houses in the area," storm chaser Aaron Jayjack told CNN from Charleston in the morning.
Karen Moran also said in a video she recorded from an elevated floor that the water was rising.
Nearly 257,000 homes and businesses were reported without power Thursday afternoon in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Tornadoes smash communities along the Carolinas' coast
Several tornadoes or possible tornadoes were being reported in parts of the Carolinas Thursday morning, including a twister that left a trail of destruction in Emerald Isle, a barrier island northeast of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Pictures show mobile homes toppled, some torn apart, with debris strewn around the area.
Byron Cox's mobile home was still standing, but his father's was destroyed, he said. Cox was in his home when the tornado approached.
"I remember hearing a loud noise. The next thing I know, the trailer started shaking. ... It shook probably 10-15 seconds, real hard," Cox, 37, said.
"All of a sudden I didn't feel it (any) more. I looked outside, and the tornado ... (was) going through the back. ... Debris flying everywhere. Never saw anything like this in my entire life."
While Byron Cox lives there full-time, his father, Simon Cox, lives in the mobile-home park only part-time. He arrived later Thursday to survey his own property's damage.
Simon Cox, 66, said the destruction should be a warning for people still waiting out the storm.
"Don't be around it. When they say get, get!" he said.
Tornadoes are common in the thunderstorm bands of hurricanes and tropical storms, especially in the right-front quadrant of the system. The tornadoes tend to be short-lived and may come with little, if any, warning.
North of Wilmington, a funnel cloud passed a fire station Thursday in video tweeted by the National Weather Service.
About 40 miles southwest of Wilmington, parts of several homes' roofs and siding were ripped off Thursday morning, the winds scattering debris across lawns, photos shared by the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office showed.
It wasn't immediately clear whether a tornado caused that damage, located in the The Farm housing development near the town of Carolina Shores.
In South Carolina, firefighters say an apparent tornado damaged an unspecified number of vehicles and buildings in North Myrtle Beach .
Wayne White captured video of the funnel cloud there. He said he was checking on some properties he manages when he saw it.
"I saw the circular clouds and was going to take a little video, and the funnel came out of nowhere," he tweeted.
'Just stay put ... until this passes,' mayor says
More than 1 million people in parts of South Carolina and North Carolina are under mandatory evacuation orders, forecasters said.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency, and the hurricane center warned of "life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds, regardless of the exact track of Dorian's center."
As conditions began to deteriorate in Charleston early Thursday, emergency management officials requested that people who remained shelter in place, the Charleston Police Department said on Twitter.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said this week he wanted the city to be a "ghost town" during the storm.
"Just stay put for another six or eight hours until this passes, and then we're going to clean up and get back to normal quickly," Tecklenburg told CNN's John Berman.
Hurricane warning extends to Carolina-Virginia border
A hurricane warning is in effect from north of the Savannah River up to the North Carolina-Virginia border -- meaning people in those areas are expected to experience hurricane conditions (with winds of at least 74 mph) at some point.
Dorian's approach to the US comes days after it devastated parts of the northwestern Bahamas.