Later downgraded to a tropical storm, slow-moving Florence arrived over North and SC just after 7am local time on Friday, bringing torrential rain and severe floods.
Hurricane Florence lumbered ashore in North Carolina with howling 90 miles per hour winds and terrifying storm surge early Friday, ripping apart buildings and knocking out power to a half-million homes and businesses as it settled in for what could be a long and extraordinarily destructive drenching.
Officials in the town of 30,000, which dates to the early 18th century, said over 100 people were rescued from floods and the downtown was under water by Friday afternoon.
As of 1 p.m. ET, more than a foot of rain had fallen in many towns in southeastern North Carolina.
The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Florence has finally made landfall near Wrightsville, North Carolina.
At a briefing, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the risk of fatality will only grow when people venture out once the winds die down.
The storm was expected to become a tropical depression on Saturday and significant weakening was expected over the weekend, the NHC said in a bulletin. Hurricane-force winds were extending out up to 80 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 195 miles, the center said.
The hurricane has caused more than 555,000 power outages in North Carolina, with almost 65,000 reported in SC, according to website poweroutage.us.
Rescue crews in Onslow County helped evacuate 70 people from a Jacksonville hotel early Friday after the roof collapsed and rain rushed in.
Florence flattened trees, buckled buildings and crumpled roads.
About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders, and millions of others live in areas likely to be affected by the storm. The governor's office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain.
It remains a Category 1 hurricane with top sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), but a gust of 112 miles per hour (180 kph) was reported just offshore.
"Very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing sideways, debris flying", said Orsa, who lives nearby and feared splintering trees would pummel her house.
Despite its weakened status to a tropical storm, Florence has deluged parts of the North Carolina coastline with torrential and historic amounts of rain.
It's hard to believe while looking at these images, but this isn't even the biggest storm devastating the planet right now.
Morehead City, North Carolina, had received 23 inches of rain by Friday night, and forecasters warned Saturday morning that parts of the Carolinas could get up to 15 inches more. The storm is some 645 kilometres wide. The flooding began on barrier islands in North Carolina and then spread into coastal and river communities there and in SC, swamping the white sands and golf courses in North Myrtle Beach. Some areas of SC could see rainfall totals of up to 15 inches, forecasters said.
"Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless", he said.
The Wilmington region could see "storm totals between 30 and 40 inches along the North Carolina coastal areas south of Cape Hatteras".
"Residents should not let their guard down", North Carolina Emergency Management tweeted.
Some of the worst flooding was in New Bern, where authorities were enforcing a curfew.