Rescue crews used boats to carry more than 360 people from rising water in the river town of New Bern, North Carolina, while many of their neighbors awaited help.
More ominously, forecasters said the onslaught would last for hours and hours because Florence was barely creeping along at 6 mph (9 kph) and still drawing energy from the ocean.
Hurricane Florence pounded the Carolinas Friday morning with heavy rain, gusting winds and rising floodwaters. Some areas of SC could see rainfall totals of up to 15 inches, forecasters said.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified, causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker.
Florence's forward movement during the day slowed to a near-standstill - sometimes it was going no faster than a human can walk - and that enabled it to pile on the rain. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 km/h) from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds reached out to 195 miles (315 km/h).
Vickie Grate, left, waits in a shelter with her son Chris, center, and his girlfriend Sarah for Hurricane Florence to pass after evacuating from their nearby homes, in Conway, South Carolina on September 12, 2018.
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, about 70 people had to be rescued from a hotel as the storm threatened its structural integrity, reported NBC affiliate WRAL.
"A basketball sized hole was found in a corner room by an Officer", officials said.
None of the people rescued were injured.
By 5 a.m., Florence was only 25 miles away.
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"Landfall of the center will occur very soon".
Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it is unclear how many did.
"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", the NHC said. Roberts says the storm surge continues to increase as Florence passes over the area. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU" the city's Twitter page announced.
Blowing ashore with howling 90 miles per hour winds, Florence splintered buildings, trapped hundreds of people and swamped entire communities along the Carolina coast Friday in what could be just the opening act in a watery, two-part, slow-motion disaster.
The Category 1 storm officially made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, shortly before 7:45 a.m.
The storm brought life-threatening storm surge and hurricane strength winds.
At 9 a.m. the center of the hurricane was about 55 miles east of Myrtle Beach.
Widespread flooding is expected for low-lying areas, including in-land regions that are close to waterways.
Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared previous year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at almost 3,000.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called Florence an "uninvited brute" that could wipe out entire communities as it grinds across the state. The system is likely to weaken and strike as a Category 1 Hurricane as the winds have also weakened in strength a little as has been reported by the National Hurricane Center. Florence is nearing the coast and is now a Cat 2 Hurricane.
Students of East Carolina University's Coastal Storms class use anemometers to measure wind speeds at Union Point Park in New Bern, N.C., on Thursday.
Forecasters said Florence's surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet (3.4 meters) of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet (0.9 meters) of rain, touching off severe flooding.