"We can not underestimate this storm".
A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house, according to a tweet from Wilmington police. The child's father was taken to a hospital. Local media said she had suffered a heart attack.
A fourth person was killed while plugging in a generator in Lenoir County, north of Wilmington, WITN-TV reported. "The storm is wreaking havoc on our state".
When all is said and done, Florence could dump 18 trillion gallons along its path, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue.
"Flash flooding will be extreme and flood waters will come up quickly and seemingly out of nowhere", the governor said.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called Florence an "uninvited brute" that could wipe out entire communities as it grinds across the state.
In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River left 500 people in peril.
Both rivers overflowed their banks, flooding homes, stores and streets and trapping many people in their houses. "Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you".
The area is expected to get about as much rain in three days as Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd dropped in two weeks in 1999.
Hurricane Florence approaches the U.S. Southeast Coast, where it is expected to make landfall on the border between North and SC this morning (Sept. 14), according to NOAA. As the storm stalled, forecasters warned "torrential rains will come:" an additional 20 to 25 inches in eastern North Carolina and up to 15 inches inland.More news: SpaceX Signs its First Private Passenger to Fly 'Round the Moon
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"This is not the end of it", said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached out 195 miles (315 kilometers).
More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia and thousands have moved to emergency shelters.
In Wilmington, near where the eye of the hurricane touched down, trees and power lines were down and many windows had been broken.
The city woke Friday to the sound of exploding electrical transformers with strong gusts throwing street signs and other debris as well as water in all directions.
Hurricane Florence slowed dramatically as it approached shallower waters along the coast, dropping from a Category 4 hurricane with 130 miles per hour (209 km/h) winds on Wednesday (Sept. 12) to a Category 2 Thursday.
Over 645,000 power outages were reported Friday morning. The homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
This story was compiled from McClatchy papers in North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer; and in South Carolina, The State in Columbia, the Beaufort Gazette, The Island Packet in Hilton Head and The Sun News in Myrtle Beach; and supplemented with wire service reports. Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did.
"The fact is this storm is deadly and we know we are days away from an ending", Cooper said.
More than 430,000 people in North and SC are without power, and water is rising along the coast, where people in some towns have experienced dramatic rescues due to the towering storm surge.