"We knew this was going to be a big storm, but it is going to be of epic proportions", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference in Raleigh. "The water started rising and we evacuated nearly an entire TV station in about 15 minutes".
Once a Category-4 hurricane with winds of 225kph, the hurricane was downgraded to Category 1 on Thursday night.
By Friday night the center of the storm had moved to eastern SC, about 15 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
Ken Graham, the NHC's director, warned the slow pace of the storm exacerbated its danger even to areas outside its immediate path.
Atlantic Beach on North Carolina's Outer Banks islands had already received 30 inches of rain, the U.S. Geological Survey said. A Doppler radar picture in the background that kept rolling amid the silence showed Florence swirling toward the coast. The coming storm surges and heavy rains will cause severe flooding that may submerge parts of the Carolinas in up to 40 inches of rain.
Her husband went to see if he could assist them but the water was chest high, she said.
North Carolina utilities estimated that as many as 2.5 million state residents could be left without power, the state's Department of Public Safety said.
The No. 1 mission right now, Cooper said, is to save lives.
"3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico".
He picked up 10 people on one run and took them to a shelter.
More than 770,000 customers are without power in North Carolina. The agency adds that people trapped by flooding should "never enter attics or crawl spaces".
In the port city of Wilmington, residents awoke to the sound of power transformers blowing up, plunging homes into darkness as Hurricane Florence's howling winds whipped through the streets sending metal signs, water and debris flying.
New Bern, the city where Pepsi was invented in a drugstore, was still experiencing winds in the 70 miles per hour range Friday afternoon.
Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wilmington on Friday morning, battering the coastal city with strong winds and torrential rain.
The NHC said the greatest threats to life came from storm-surges while "catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding" was expected.
"A USGS gauge in Emerald Isle, N.C., recently recorded 6.1 feet above normal water levels", the National Hurricane Center said of the storm surge early Friday.
The NHC described Florence as a "slow mover" and said it had the potential to dump historic amounts of rain on North and SC, as much as 40 inches (one meter) in some places.
After creeping inland, Florence is expected to head west before looping up toward Tennessee and Kentucky early next week. States of emergency have already been declared in both North and SC.
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats. By Friday evening, the eye of the storm had moved to SC.
Duke has said it could take several weeks to fully restore power in areas that are inaccessible due to flooding.
Not everyone was taking Florence too seriously: About two dozen locals gathered Thursday night behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington.