The storm's first casualties included a mother and her baby, who died when a tree fell on their brick house in Wilmington, North Carolina. The father was transported to a hospital for treatment. By late Wednesday, authorities in North Carolina reported almost 7,000 evacuees staying in 71 emergency shelters throughout the state.
Hurricane Florence has already proven to be not just powerful and destructive but wildly unpredictable.
The center of Florence, no longer classified as a major hurricane but still posing a grave threat to life and property, is expected to strike North Carolina's southern coast on Friday, then drift southwest along the shoreline before moving inland on Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.
"I can't emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge and inland flooding with this storm".
Parts of North and SC were forecast to get as much as 40 inches of rain (1 meter).
At least 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia have been warned to evacuate, and others are hunkering down. Numerous evacuees took their pets. "And we had no belief it would be as significant an event as it was", he said. "It's an uninvited brute who doesn't want to leave". "There will be disruptions in our services", he said.
After reaching a terrifying Category 4 peak of 225km/h earlier in the week, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m.at Wrightsville Beach, a few kilometers east of Wilmington and not far from the SC line.
Authorities in New Bern said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods and that the downtown area was underwater. But spokeswoman Diane Villa says some animals, including bison and elk, will stay in fenced-in yards instead of barns because they don't like being in fully enclosed spaces.
Video reports from several towns in the Carolinas showed emergency personnel wading through rippling thigh-high floodwaters in residential neighborhoods.
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President Donald Trump said his administration was "as ready as anybody has ever been" to respond to the storm.
Governor Roy Cooper has warned of an impending disaster.
A fallen tree crashed through the home where a woman and her baby were killed in Wilmington, N.C., after Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday. "It's insane", he said by telephone.
"I see the beach communities being inundated with water and destruction that will be pretty, pretty epic in nature".
"Today is the time to get your preparedness actions complete", he said. More than 60 people had to be rescued in another town as a cinderblock motel collapsed at the height of the storm's fury. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and restoration could take weeks.
The center of Florence will move across extreme southeastern North Carolina Friday evening and extreme eastern South Carolina Friday night and Saturday, the NHC said.
Florence flattened trees, crumbled roads and the assault wasn't anywhere close to being over, with the siege in the Carolinas expected to last all weekend.
About 10 million people could be affected by the storm.
Two people died in Lenoir County.