More than 485,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and SC early on Friday, utility officials said.
The centre of Florence is expected to hit North Carolina's southern coast on Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, enough time to drop as much as one metre of rain in some places, according to the National Hurricane Center.
This is a developing story. North Carolinians can compare those measurements with this flood risk map to gauge how their areas might be affected.
A high-pressure system north of the hurricane was slowing its approach, and Florence was expected to drift at a rate of 5 miles per hour toward Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday, and move into western parts of South Carolina by midday Sunday, the National Weather Service said. He talks about the "adrenaline rush" from reporting from the front lines, and in the same breath talks about all the risks first responders have to take to rescue people who refused to evacuate. We will have tropical storm force winds and rain and storm surge continues to be our main concern with extreme flooding.
It will likely come on shore Friday near Wilmington, North Carolina.
CNN's not the only media outlet with reporters in the way of Florence, delivering scoops on what rain and wind look like. He urged people to stay off roads during peak storm conditions and warned against driving through standing floodwater. The Category 1 storm has maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour and is moving slowly, at 6 miles per hour.
As of 2 a.m., Florence was centered about 35 miles east of Wilmington, N.C. Its forward movement increased slightly to 6 mph.
"3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico", Trump said on Twitter.
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According to CNN, the hurricane hit the east coast of the United States with 90-mph winds and relentless rain.
11 feet: Storm surge may reach this point in parts of North Carolina.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified, causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker.
Florence was seen as a major test for FEMA, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared past year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which was blamed for almost 3,000 deaths. The network also reported that about 12,000 people are in 126 evacuation shelters, according to state officials.
As the driving rain and pounding winds reached land Friday, a few of the locals who made a decision to ride out the storm reached for their cameras to capture Florence's fury from a firsthand perspective.
Not everyone was taking Florence too seriously: About two dozen locals gathered Thursday night behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington.
Others were at home hoping for the best.
And they say people who are truly in an emergency should call 911, not just Tweet about it. "We chose to hunker down".