More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel at the height of the storm, and many more who defied evacuation orders held out hope of being rescued. The city said two Federal Emergency Management Agency teams were working on swift-water rescues, and more were on the way More than 12,000 people were in shelters in North Carolina and 400 people in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.
"Our hearts go out to the families of those who died in this storm", Gov. Roy Cooper said in a press release. "The storm is wreaking havoc on our state".
The Wilmington Police Department said Friday that the two were killed when a tree fell on their house. Also, a 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, Lenoir County authorities said, and the governor's office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain. 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.
Hurricane Florence made landfall on Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina just after 6 am CDT as a Category 1 hurricane. It came ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline. "It's just bad - winds are still really high". More than 700mm of rain has fallen in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, potentially breaking the state record for rainfall from a tropical cyclone. Other communities got well over a foot (30 centimetres).
As of 2:00 pm (1800 GMT), maximum sustained winds had weakened to 75 miles per hour (120 kph) but the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned Carolina residents to be alert for life-threatening storm surges and "catastrophic freshwater flooding".
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats. 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.
About 70 people in Jacksonville, North Carolina, had to be moved to safety from a hotel whose structural integrity was threatened by the hurricane.
According to meteorologist Ryan Maue, the tropical cyclone was expected to unload 10 trillion gallons of rainfall in North Carolina, enough to fill over 15 million Olympic-size swimming pools, CNN reported. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with almost 4 inches (10 centimeters) of water, he calculated. Nevertheless, North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature listened to coastal developers and passed a law in 2012 requiring state scientists and regulators to consider climate-change skeptics in sea level rise projections for development and infrastructure planning. Pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air.
In Wilmington, near where the eye of the hurricane touched down, trees and power lines were down and many windows had been broken.
Florence's intensity has diminished since it roared ashore along the US mid-Atlantic coast on Friday as a hurricane.
Farther up the coast, in New Bern, flooding on the Neuse River trapped people. A US Geological Service gauge for the Trent River in New Bern was "recording 10.1 feet of inundation" as of 1 a.m.
"You can't get over till we have power and we have sewer up and running", said the retired teacher and real estate agent, who rode out the hurricane in an inland hotel.
The defended President Donald Trump's earlier tweets claiming Democrats had inflated the death toll stemming from Hurricane Maria past year, saying he was "responding to the liberal media and San Juan Mayor [Carmen Yulîn Cruz] who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations". "We have started to see the water recede". "We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees", said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor's appointment that was later cancelled.