The barrier island of Emerald Isle is under water, with ocean waves rolling in over a six-foot storm surge and crashing into homes. It was crawling west at 5 miles per hour.
Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com said Florence could dump a staggering 18 trillion gallons of rain during a week on North Carolina, South Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland.
Some areas could receive as much as 40 inches of rain, forecasters said.
At 2 p.m., Florence had just barely Category 1 hurricane strength, with top sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.
Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m.at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington and not far from the SC line, coming ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified, causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker. But Florence's forward movement had slowed to a crawl, and it piled on the rain in a siege that could go on all weekend long.
Heavy rain, gusting winds and rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence deluged the Carolinas on Thursday as the massive, slow-moving storm crept toward the coastline, threatening millions of people in its path with record rainfall and punishing surf.
The center said the threat of freshwater flooding will increase over the next several days.
More than 60 people had to be evacuated from a motel at risk of collapse in Jacksonville.
At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.
"A basketball sized hole was found in a corner room by an Officer", officials said.
Rescue workers in North Carolina meanwhile were scrambling to save people stranded in their homes.
The Miami-based center had said earlier Friday Florence's arrival would come with "catastrophic" fresh water flooding over portions of the Carolinas.
Many residents were ordered to evacuate the Carolinas and Virginia before the storm hit, but it's not clear how many heeded the warnings.
And about 46 miles farther up the waterfront, in New Bern, about 150 people were waiting to be rescued from floods on the Neuse River, WXII-TV reported. Mayor Dana Outlaw told The Charlotte Observer about 200 had been rescued by 5 a.m. Residents reached out for help through the night by phone and social media.
With a storm surge warning in effect, the authorities urged people to prepare themselves for the disaster. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU".
Swells are growing larger and crews are still working as Hurricane Florence inches closer to the North Carolina coast.
The Navy says nearly 30 Virginia-based ships and 128 aircraft sent away from their bases in the Hampton Roads-area because of now-Tropical Storm Florence have been given the go-ahead to return.
Forecasters say Florence is now a tropical storm but will continue to threaten North and SC with powerful winds and catastrophic freshwater flooding.
Life-threatening storm surge is being reported along the coast of the Carolinas.
Wind speeds are only expected to weaken on Saturday as the storm moves slowly across land.
Soil remains saturated and water tables high in the northeast, which could result in flooding problems should Florence bring heavy rounds of rain to the area.
As the storm widens - and lingers - Florence has increased potential to produce tornadoes, flash flooding, mudslides and a catastrophic storm surge. The storm knocked out power to more than 890,000 homes and businesses, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the USA electrical grid. Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Thursday evening and was moving west at only 6 miles per hour (9 km/h).