The storm officially made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina at 7:15 am (1115 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said. "We face walls of water at our coasts, along our rivers, across our farmland, in our cities and in our towns".
About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders and millions of others live in areas likely to be affected by the storm.
US Southeast power companies said more than 188,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina and SC were without power early Friday as Hurricane Florence caused a deluge ahead of its landfall later in the day. The city said early Friday that two out-of-state FEMA teams were working on swift-water rescues and more teams were on the way. It was moving west at 3 miles per hour, the National Weather Service said.
He said that the heavy rainfall for southeast North Carolina is only one-third to one-quarter the way over.
"There is still time, but not a lot of time", said Derrec Becker of the South Carolina Department of Emergency Management.
"This is an uninvited brute that just won't leave", Cooper said on "Today".
"And we're not done yet", Graham said, adding that some hard-hit areas could get an additional 15 to 20 inches because the storm was moving so slowly. The three-day record for Wilmington is 19.66 inches set in 2010.
And that's when people found themselves trapped in their homes as the water rose.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves almost 30 feet (9 meters) high as Florence churned toward shore. "But no matter how bad it's going to be, it will pass and our job will be to rebuild this community together, and that's what we're going to do". "We just want people to be very careful".
The center said that a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently reported 6.3 feet (1.92 meters) of inundation.
Volunteers and city workers have been filling sandbags, trying to plug a low point in the city's levee system before the Lumber River crests.
"Monster" Hurricane Florence aims to drench Carolinas
Predictions now have the storm stalling and making a slight southward turn after it makes landfall. Henry McMaster has ordered evacuations in counties along the state's coast, including Charleston.
New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw confirmed there were no reports of fatalities as of early Friday morning.
"I'm not approaching Florence from fear or panic", said Brad Corpening, 35, who planned to ride out the storm in his boarded-up delicatessen in Wilmington. Can you go up a level?
At 9 a.m. the center of the hurricane was about 55 miles east of Myrtle Beach.
On Friday, coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, and pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air. The father was hospitalized with injuries. Expert scientists, however, had said they were anxious about Brunswick because of scant public information about its readiness. 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.
"The shelters are not taking dogs", Ramirez said. They later clarified those deaths were not related to Florence.
"About 11:30, 12 (midnight), the water came into the house".
Annazette Riley-Cromartie said she and her family thought they'd be safe in their brick house in eastern North Carolina.
The water was seen rising as high as 9 feet, lifting a auto on the simulated street beside her and floating it above her head as a street sign was submerged. She retreated and was eventually rescued by a boat crew; 140 more awaited assistance.
Officials in several states declared a state of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas were still recovering from summer storms.
By early afternoon, Florence's winds had weakened to 75 miles per hour, just barely a hurricane and well below the storm's terrifying Category 4 peak of 140 miles per hour earlier in the week.