Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 3.4 metres of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 90 centimetres of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Rescue crews used boats to carry more than 360 people from rising water in the river town of New Bern, North Carolina, while many of their neighbors awaited help. We are more inland from the coast.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said Florence was set to cover nearly all of the state in several feet of water.
The dead included a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. The governor's office said a third person was killed while plugging in a generator.
Tom Balance, owner of a seafood restaurant in New Bern, had decided against evacuating his home and was soon alarmed to see waves coming off the Neuse and the water getting higher and higher.
Florence was about 30 miles away from Wilmington as of 4 a.m.
"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth", he said.
The storm made landfall earlier on Friday just outside Wilmington, bringing life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds. It came ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.
Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Thursday evening and was located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Morehead City, North Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 km/h).
But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind.
In Rocky Point, North Carolina, Susan Bostic and her family were packing to leave Saturday morning, even though Florence's center was long gone. The hurricane is expected to make landfall on Friday, with heavy rain and hurricane-force winds potentially lasting for days.
Florence to approach the Carolinas coast later Thursday -NHC
Like a bulldozer, the storm's winds and forward motion will push a tremendous amount of water onshore when it makes landfall. The slower motion will prolong effects from wind, rain and surge in the eastern Carolinas.
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It also wants to continue protections for its dairy industry and defend lumber exports to the United States, which have been hit with duties.
Sandie Orsa is waiting out Hurricane Florence in a hotel in Wilmington. Another one of the bears ended up in the middle of the street in the background.
The storm's center is crawling over SC, but many of its main rain bands still are over already-saturated North Carolina - setting up what may be days of flooding for some communities.
About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
According to fuel-station finding app GasBuddy, about 52 percent of stations Thursday in Wilmington, North Carolina were out of gas.
Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of an environmental disaster from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms. Hurricane Florence will slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland.
The center of the eye of the hurricane made landfall in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and was moving slowly westward just south of Wilmington. Florence's rain will reach 40 inches in some parts of the Carolina coasts, forecasters said. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay, or cover the entire state of Texas with almost 4 inches (10 centimeters) of water.
Water was rising Saturday morning in a flood plain near the Waccamaw River, lapping up against homes and pooling over at least one main road.
Canceled more than 1,300 flights along the East Coast through Friday.
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. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU" the city's Twitter page announced.
"The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard, that trying to get out we got thrown into trailers". "If we lose the house, oh well, we can get housing".