"It was very dark, all you could see was water and wind, you couldn't really figure out what was going on out there", a neighbour said. More than 60 people, including many children, were evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds collapsed part of the roof. With half of the storm still out over the Atlantic, Florence continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.
Airlines canceled more than 2,100 flights through Sunday. "This rainfall will continue to produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", the advisory said. Paramedics trying to reach her were blocked by debris.
Relief will not come quickly.
The Wilmington airport had a wind gust clocked at 105 miles per hour (169 kph), the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958. The rivers are in most cases several days from cresting.
Storm surge was as high as 10 feet on the Neuse River, he said.
There is really nowhere for the water to go.
Resident Jay Manning said he and his wife watched with alarm as water filled the street. "We have two boats and all our worldly possessions", said Susan Patchkofsky, who refused her family's pleas to evacuate and stayed at Emerald Isle with her husband. An ominous tweet appeared on the historic North Carolina community's Twitter feed about 2 a.m. Friday.
"I don't see any portion of the state of North or SC that's not going to be impacted in some way", said Cline. "It's making it hard for us to move valuable resources to areas in need".
More than 12,000 people were in shelters in North Carolina and 400 in Virginia, where the forecast was less dire.
Crews from the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were working with citizen volunteers to get people to dry ground, Roberts said.
Onslow County spokesman Cornelius Jordan said some visitors at the Triangle Motor Inn were able to drive away on their own, but emergency personnel had to take others to a safe location.
Jason Weinmann, a 47-year-old retired Marine, also joined the rescue effort.
"Amazing. They did awesome", said Knox, who was stranded with seven others, including a boy who was carried out in a life vest. "You rock!" the city tweeted. "Houses. Trees", Holt said.
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Atlantic Beach on North Carolina's Outer Banks islands had already received 76cm of rain, the US Geological Survey said.
So far, at least three people have died because of the storm, including a mother and infant who were in a Mercer Avenue house when it was struck by a felled tree.
"3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico". A woman in Hampstead, North Carolina died of a heart attack after first responders were unable to reach her fast enough due to downed trees.
The hurricane was "wreaking havoc" and could wipe out entire communities as it makes its "violent grind across our state for days", the governor said. "Be extremely careful and stay alert".
Florence flattened trees, crumbled roads and knocked out power to more than 840,000 homes and businesses, and the assault wasn't anywhere close to being over, with the siege in the Carolinas expected to last all weekend.
Usually hurricanes this far north deliver their punch and quickly leave town. But its progress had slowed to a crawl of 5 miles per hour.
Protected: More than 20,000 people in shelters in North Carolina, 6,400 in SC and 400 in Virginia.
The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Florence has finally made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
In Wilmington, high winds blew transformers, plunging the city into darkness. Doll said, based on doppler radar estimates, some areas will accumulate up to 25 inches of rainfall.
SC authorities said law enforcement officers were guarding against looting in evacuated areas.
Kevin Knox and his family were rescued from their flooded brick home with the help of Army Sgt. Johan Mackie, part of a team that was using a phone app to locate people in distress.
Authorities have set up 89 emergency operation centers throughout the state.
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Conway, S.C., Megerian from New Bern, N.C., and Jarvie from Fayetteville, N.C.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this story.