Firefighters and rescue crews pray in front of a home after removing a resident trapped inside during Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina on September 14, 2018.
Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas early Thursday morning with maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour - just below a Category 3 storm.
Hundreds of people in North Carolina have been rescued from rising water.
The biggest danger, as forecasters saw it, was not the wind but the water: the storm surge along the coastline and the prospect of 1 to 3½ feet of rain over the next several days that could trigger catastrophic flooding in a slow-motion disaster well inland.
According to forecasters, the center of Florence is expected to hit North Carolina's southern coast Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday.
Services and flights have been suspended on Thursday and Friday at Wilmington International Airport on North Carolina's coast.
"The water kept rising and kept rising", he said.
All four major United States airlines have said they are capping selected airfares below what last-minute tickets would cost.
In New Bern, North Carolina, the storm surge overwhelmed the town of 30,000, located at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers.
According to Duke Energy, the largest electrical provider in the Carolinas, between 1 and 3 million people in South and North Carolina may be left without power after Hurricane Florence. Tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles, the hurricane center said.
"We've had people in attics, on top of roofs", she said.
Roads and intersections on North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands were inundated. They had heeded officials' warnings that the storm was treacherous, with record-setting rains and storm surges not seen in North Carolina in decades.
On Friday, coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, and pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air.
Almost 3,000 people died in the aftermath of the storm, according to an estimate from researchers at Georgetown University that was adopted by the Puerto Rican government as the official death toll for the storm.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm probably a 7" in terms of worry, she said.
"We're estimating we've rescued 150-200", New Bern Police Lt. David Daniels said early Friday morning.
More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm began buffeting the coast, and more than 12,000 were in shelters. Three other Southern raceways also opened campgrounds to evacuees. "Plant procedures call for the reactors to be shut down before the anticipated onset of hurricane-force winds", agency spokesman Joey Ledford told CNN.
"The center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC later today, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern SC in the hurricane warning area tonight and Friday, " the hurricane center said. As of 5 a.m., its maximum wind speeds remain at 110 miles per hour as it started to ingest drier air, says FOX 13's meteorologist Tyler Eliasen, however, it also means Florence's wind field has grown larger.
The National Hurricane Center says the Neuse River near the city is recording more than 10 feet (3.05 meters) of inundation.
The storm surge that has hit New Bern is "approximately 2 feet higher" now than it was during Hurricane Irene seven years ago, the National Weather Service office in Morehead City says.
Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of environmental havoc from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
"I'm not going to put our personnel in harm's way, especially for people that we've already told to evacuate", Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said.