Forecasters said the Category 1 storm's extreme size meant it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day.
A man sits on a park bench in a flooded park as the Cape Fear River rises above its usual height in Wilmington. "There is probably not a county or a person that will not be affected in some way by this very massive and violent storm".
The dead included a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. The department, which did not release their names, said that the father of the child was transported to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center with injuries.
Two people died in Lenoir County.
In New Bern, North Carolina, the storm surge overwhelmed the town of 30,000 which is located at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers.
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As it stands, Florence is now a Category two hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 177 km/h. Forecasters anxious the storm's damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast.
Resident Jay Manning said he and his wife watched with alarm as water filled the street. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU". "My wife's in a panic right now". When they got to the home, the woman was dead, authorities said.
FEMA operates rescue teams with boats and helicopters, but the continued intense weather may hamper efforts while the storm remains strong. "This is a 500- or 1,000-year event".
The category 1 hurricane is packing peak winds of 90 miles per hour (150 km/h).
Bonefish Grill in North Charleston, South Carolina fed about 100 first responders Thursday to thank them for their service and for keeping the community safe during the hurricane.
Florence also blew down trees.
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.
More than 12,000 were in shelters in North Carolina and 400 people in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.
Near the beach in Wilmington, a Waffle House restaurant, part of a chain with a reputation for staying open during disasters, had no plans to close, even if power was lost, and there were lines to get in on Thursday evening.
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"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", the NHC said.
The city of New Bern, North Carolina has promised help is on its way to 150 individuals trapped by Hurricane Florence's inundation of the small town.
More than 60 people meanwhile were forced to evacuate a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after part of the roof collapsed, city officials said.
Two women who were riding out the storm dance to the music outside the Barbary Coast bar in downtown Wilmington, N.C., as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast, September 13, 2018.
Officials say anyone who has not heeded mandatory evacuation orders is on his own. Trump plans a visit to the region next week.
The hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour and is coming in at 6 miles per hour. Currently, Florence is 34.2°N and 77.2°W and is about 45 km east of Wilmington, North Carolina and 80 km southwest of Morehead City, North Carolina, moving in a west-northwest direction at the speed of 9 km per hour.
As the storm moves inland it is expected to significantly weaken starting later today throughout the weekend.
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