By late Thursday afternoon, Florence's fierce headwinds were already uprooting trees and tearing down power lines and had ripped the roof off of at least one building in coastal North Carolina, according to news station WGHP.
If you're anxious about flooding away from the coast, then the Southeast River Forecast Center is your go-to stop. Ballance called the rainfall "biblical", saying he's gotten reports from friends that his downtown seafood restaurant was flooded, just like the rest of the small city's historic downtown, and he's anxious about the hundreds of people who needed to be rescued overnight in the city. The Hurricane Center forecasts that Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC later on Thursday, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern SC on Thursday night and Friday.
Virginia and Georgia are also under states of emergency, but it's North and SC that are positioned to suffer the worst of the storm's wrath.
The town of Oriental had gotten more than 457mm of rain just a few hours into the deluge, while Surf City had 355mm and it was still coming down.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves almost 30 feet (9 metres) high as Florence churned toward shore.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm will eventually push westward and make a right hook to the northeast over the southern Appalachians, moving into the mid-Atlantic region and New England as a tropical depression by the middle of next week.
The path of Hurricane Florence sees it going over some of the poorest areas on the eastern seaboard. "But I think we're ready".
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People in areas vulnerable to the unsafe hurricane, particularly those in coastal regions, have fled ahead of the storm.
Cooper said Florence was set to cover nearly all of the state in several feet of water.
Many residents along the coast were issued mandatory evacuations, with forecasters warning of "life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding".
The full impact of storm surge on the coast will depend on whether the storm's arrival coincides with high tide. Restoring power to all customers could take weeks, it said.
Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach at around 7:15 a.m. EST. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached out 195 miles (315 kilometers).
Horton pleaded for volunteers to take in their animals for the duration of the storm, a common, plaintive refrain at other shelters across the area. A woman named Bree tweeted: "If anybody could help. our cars is under water and so is our house stuck in attic". "Everybody laughs at the fact that this storm got downgraded. but I've never seen tree devastation this bad".
"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm probably a 7" in terms of worry, she said. "We were able to evacuate quite a few; some did not go", he said.