- Even from orbit, Hurricane Florence looks like a monster.
Cooper also requested additional federal disaster assistance in anticipation of what his office called "historic major damage" across the state.
On Thursday evening, the Neuse River burst its banks which caused rapid flooding in New Bern, North Carolina, forcing residents to flee as the entire city lost power.
At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Governor Cooper said, with more facilities being opened. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.
"We're a little anxious about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now", said Linda Smith, 67, a retired nonprofit director.
Florence was menacing the USA coast just as Super Typhoon Mangkhut was threatening to spur chaos in parts of Asia.
Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia.
He said: "I've never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked".
Some Carolinians have expressed frustration after evacuating their homes for a storm that was later downgraded - but officials have pushed back at suggestions that Florence's threat has been exaggerated.
Not everyone was taking Florence seriously: About two dozen locals gathered Thursday night behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington. Forecasters said catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected well inland over the next few days as Florence crawls across the Carolinas.
The Saffir-Simpson scale that meteorologists use to measure hurricanes reflects only the wind speeds involved in the storm, and right now Hurricane Florence's winds are hovering at maximum speeds of about 110 miles per hour (175 km/h). While hurricane force winds extended 80 miles from the centre of the storm, tropical storm force winds extended up to 195 miles.
Forecasters said that given the storm's size and slow track, it could cause epic damage similar to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago. After criticism for its response in Puerto Rico to last year's Hurricane Maria, which officials there said was responsible for 3,000 deaths, Trump has vowed a vigorous response to Florence and defended his handling of Maria. Some 3,000 people died in the aftermath of that storm.
Others were at home hoping for the best.
"In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest", said Peggy Perry, who along with three relatives, was trapped early Friday in her New Bern home, according to CNN. "We have a safe basement and generator that comes on automatically".