Hurricane Florence's leading edge battered the Carolina coast Thursday, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets on the Outer Banks, as the hulking storm closed in with 100 miles per hour (160 kph) winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend.
Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and risky.
The eye of the storm reached Wrightsville Beach, several miles east of Wilmington, at around 7:15 a.m. eastern time (1215 GMT), with the estimated maximum wind of 150 km/h. "The longer you have this hurricane wind flow, the longer you push that water well inland", he said.
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull people out of the Triangle Motor Inn after the structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse. Video footage showed parking lots in the riverfront town of New Bern turn into shallow lakes of dirty gray water as heavy rain fell.
Benjamin Brown is a reporter for Fox News.
"Currently ~150 awaiting rescue in New Bern", the city's Twitter page said late Thursday.
The NHC measured wave heights of up to 83 feet - the equivalent of a seven-story building - as Florence churned in the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday.
More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
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The centre of Florence is expected to hit North Carolina's southern coast on Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, enough time to drop as much as one metre of rain in some places, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Olivia is the first tropical cyclone to make landfall on Maui in modern history, National Weather Service forecasters said.
There were no immediate reports of storm-related deaths or serious injuries, but authorities said more than 100 people were rescued further north in New Bern, where the downtown area of the city of 30,000 people was under water.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the Carolinas and Virginia have been forced to evacuate as Hurricane Florence battered the eastern coast of the USA, including more than 3,000 prisoners who have been relocated from jails in the path of Florence.
Myrtle Beach, a SC beach resort, was deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic. Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
A primary power supplier in the Carolinas, Duke Energy is already warning that some 75 percent of its 4 million customers could lose power - and not just for a few hours.
Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather with his dog Canelo. "I'm not leaving him here".
The city had issued an evacuation order.