As of 5 p.m. Friday, forecasters say Florence is now a tropical storm but will continue to threaten North and SC with powerful winds and catastrophic freshwater flooding.
About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.
Michael Nelson floats in a boat made from a metal tub and fishing floats after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded his street during Hurricane Florence in New Bern, N.C., Thursday. It caused most of the 1,200 deaths in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
But forecasters said its extreme size meant it could batter the US East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day.
For people living inland in the Carolinas, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest.
Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of environmental havoc from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
The National looks at the science behind Hurricane Florence and why it's being called a once-in-a-generation storm.
Screaming winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence's leading edge whipped the Carolina coast to begin an onslaught that could last for days, leaving a wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising seas.
When all is said and done, Florence could dump 18 trillion gallons along its path, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue. It's also enough to cover the entire state of Texas with almost 4 inches (10 centimeters) of water.
The Wilmington airport had a wind gust clocked at 105 miles per hour (169 kph), the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958. We have wind and rain.
Videos on social media show the water reaching the windows of some houses in the Belhaven area.
By then, Craven County had already gotten more than 100 calls from people who said they were trapped in their homes and in vehicles, public information officer Amber Parker tells TIME Friday morning.
"In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest", she said.
Maue calculates that 34 million people in the US are forecast to get at least 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of rain from Florence, with more than 5.7 million probably getting at least a foot, and about 1.5 million getting 20 inches (51 centimeters) or more.
More than 12,000 people were in shelters in North Carolina and 400 in Virginia, where the forecast was less dire.
Roughly 1 million people are under evacuation orders.
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A tree fell on a homeowner's vehicle , parked in the driveway as Hurricane Florence made landfall in Wilmington, North Carolina. The eye of the monstrous Hurricane Florence is now moving slowly in a southwestern direction near the coast of North Carolina.
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Duke Energy, a local power company, estimated that up to three million customers could lose their supply as a result of Florence. More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it is not clear how many left.
Florence to bring rain and wind our way
Wind damage at the coast looks to be significat due to the threat of 70 to 105 miles per hour winds with event stronger gusts. Browning's choice to stay in the hurricane warning zone wasn't easy, she said, but she "could not find anywhere to go".
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