Winds bent trees towards the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence moved in for an extended stay, with enough of its killer winds swirling overseas to maintain its power.
An onlooker checks out the heavy surf at the Avalon Fishing Pier in Kill Devil Hills.
Sheets of rain splattered against windows of a hotel before daybreak in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the electricity went out.
"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.
As 400-mile-wide Florence pounded away at the coast with torrential downpours and surging seas, rescue crews used boats to reach scores of people besieged by rising waters along a river. The city said two FEMA teams were working on swift-water rescues and more were on the way.
Four shelters were now open, Roberts said, adding that dispatchers received a call for 17 people stranded all on one street.
"There is still time, but not a lot of time", said Derrec Becker of the South Carolina Department of Emergency Management.
More than a million people along the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been ordered to evacuate.
The news came more than 10 hours after the storm began punishing the coastal area with sustained hurricane-force winds, the hurricane center said.
Spanish moss waved in the trees as the winds picked up in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City.
Already Thursday, streets were transformed into raging streams and massive waves surged along the Outer Banks.
Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia.
Life-threatening storm surge is being reported along the coast of the Carolinas.
Florence remains a Category 1 storm, and it's spinning hurricane-force winds up to 70 miles from its center.
Top winds were holding at 90 miles per hour - that's just a Category 1 hurricane - but some communities were already submerged in more than six feet of water as the storm drenched the coast.
"A big worry about Hurricane Florence is that it's not acting like a normal hurricane", said Al Jazeera's Andy Gallacher, reporting from Wilmington, North Carolina.
Not everyone was taking Florence too seriously: About two dozen locals gathered Thursday night in the United States behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington.
"At this point, I'm just riding out whatever they throw my way, and hope it works out for the best", Tominack said.
"This is our only home".
"Our hearts go out to the families of those who died in this storm", Cooper said in a statement.