The hurricane's storm surge - the wall of water it pushed in from the Atlantic - "overwhelmed" the town of New Bern at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said. "It's an uninvited brute who doesn't want to leave". "Just so you know that we are staying here to keep you up to date".
He said the strongest of Florence's winds have likely passed, but that the storm's worst effects had just begun Friday.
Officials say residents should wait until the storm completely passes before getting rid of perishable supplies because there is still the possibility of flooding in some areas of the Historic Triangle.
The NHC described Florence as a "slow mover" and said it had the potential to dump historic amounts of rain on North and SC, as much as 40 inches (one meter) in some places.
Outlaw said at least 4,200 homes and 300 businesses in New Bern have sustained damage from flooding or trees.
Her husband went to see if he could assist them but the water was chest high, she said.
The No. 1 mission right now, Cooper said, is to save lives.
The City of New Bern said in a tweet before dawn Friday that there were about 150 people who still needed swift-water rescue.More news: US East Coast braces for Hurricane Florence
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The Miami-based center says the center of the eye moved ashore with top sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), making Florence a Category 1 hurricane in terms of wind intensity.
Residents can be seen wading through deep floodwater in New Bern as they attempt to retrieve their belongings. Calls for help multiplied as the wind picked up and the tide rolled in.
About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed, with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
"You need to be prepared to be without power for weeks", Holding said, pointing out that Hurricane Fran knocked out power for two weeks and Hurricane Matthew left him without power for five days. Shortly afterward, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts to 105 miles per hour at Wilmington International Airport, the highest wind gust measured in Wilmington since Hurricane Helene hit the port city in 1958. At the city's airport, the wind was gusting at 91 miles per hour.
"Cash donations go further and make a greater impact and easier to get to the harder hit areas", said Charvalla West, community resource center manager for the United Way of Williamsburg.
Winds here are still expected to reach a maximum sustained speed of 60 to 70 miles per hour, with peaks reaching in the upper 80s in some Grand Strand regions. Significant weakening is expected over the weekend.
And the storm is still expected to bring catastrophic winds, rain, storm surges and flooding, the National Hurricane Center briefing said.
Hurricane Florence on Friday claimed its first fatalities, including a mother and her baby, as the monster storm walloped the US East Coast and parked over the Carolinas, threatening days of torrential rain and severe flooding. Officials in South Carolina's Craven County say conditions are much worse than some residents expected, with almost 500 people calling the local emergency services hotline asking for help. And it's travelling farther and creating deeper floods thanks to sea-level rise from climate change, which research indicates has added as much as 6 inches to Florence's surge.