Florence's rain will reach 40 inches in some parts of the Carolina coasts, and gusty winds will send the ocean and rivers spilling into neighborhoods, forecasters said.
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats that could be used to pluck people from the floodwaters. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and that restoring it could take weeks.
The National Hurricane Center's latest 5-day rainfall map as of Friday morning showed 6 to 10 inches of rain for the Triangle area, with localized heavier amounts.
The rest of South and North Carolina as well as southwest Virginia may see up to 24 inches of rain.
"Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Hurricane Florence is moving at full force across the Carolinas, submerging homes, with days more rain in store.
More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel at the height of the storm, and many more who defied evacuation orders held out hope of being rescued.
It remains a Category 1 hurricane with top sustained winds of 80 miles per hour, but stronger wind gusts have been reported.
"To those in the storm's path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place", he said at a news conference in Raleigh, adding that Florence would "continue its violent grind across the state for days".
US Southeast power companies said more than 188,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina and SC were without power early Friday as Hurricane Florence caused a deluge ahead of its landfall later in the day.
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One email chain was titled "spying", and Democratic files were referred to as "confidential" several times. Despite the tense atmosphere, there were pointed moments of levity.
Hurricane-force winds extend up to 80 miles from the centre, and tropical storm effects reach 195 miles, The Independent reported.now less than 100 miles from Wilmington, North Carolina, the "meandering" Florence has been described as a "horrific nightmare storm" because meteorologists can not pinpoint where it will strike.
The Miami-based center says the center of the eye moved ashore with top sustained winds of 90 miles per hour, making Florence a Category 1 hurricane in terms of wind intensity.
The rising sea crept toward the two-story home of Tom Copeland, who lives on a spit of land surrounded by water in Swansboro.
Overnight about 150 people in New Bern, North Carolina, were trapped in their homes and other establishments after rising water due to storm surge reaching 10 feet, according to CNN.
Thousands of people hunkered down in schools, shelters and a coliseum in Winston-Salem. Deadly storm surges, flooding and inland rainfall are expected to cause significant damage as well.
The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as sluggish and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a year ago.
More than 722,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and SC early on Friday, utility officials said.
About 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it's unclear how many did, officials said.
As of 1 p.m. ET, more than a foot of rain had fallen in many towns in southeastern North Carolina. She said a hurricane has a way of bringing everyone to the same level.
"We have prepared everything", he says, "to have enough food, water, batteries, radio, first-aid supplies, and everything we need to be safe". But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind.