Forecasters said that given the storm's size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds. "A turn toward the west-northwest and west at an even slower forward speed is expected by tonight and continuing into Friday, and a slow west-southwestward motion is forecast Friday night and Saturday", the bulletin said. Hurricane-force winds extended 130 kilometres from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 315 kilometres.
The governor of neighbouring North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination, and parts of coastal Dare County, while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia.
As Hurricane Florence crashed onto the Carolinas, federal emergency teams prepared themselves to work on a long process of rebuilding the storm-battered landscape it would leave behind. Its 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.
Hurricane Florence, once rumored to strike as a Category-5 storm, will strike with less powerful wind, but it will drop much more rain on the area than initially expected.
In the besieged North Carolina city of New Bern, rescuers by midmorning Friday had plucked more than 200 people from rising waters, but about 150 more had to wait as conditions worsened and a storm surge reached 10 feet, officials said.
"This is an absolute life-threatening scenario".
The National Hurricane Center said the storm's strength should continue through Thursday.
The storm is also predicted to bring historic rainfall of up to 35 inches to the Wilmington region.
Orlando International Airport officials are warning that Hurricane Florence could impact incoming and outgoing flights as early as Thursday.
Hurricane Florence made landfall outside Wilmington, North Carolina, about 7:15 a.m. on Friday as a Category 1 storm. "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".
NewsHour has also published maps of flooding predictions for the coast.
"Since the track is slower and the storm will reside in the area for a longer period of time rainfall amounts are expected to be extreme", Reid Hawkins, science officer for the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, said in a statement.
After landfall, the storm is expected to linger over the area for a few days, which would result in rising river levels and lakes.
About 40 miles from New Bern, more than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel in Jacksonville, North Carolina at the height of the storm, according to CBS affiliate WNCT-TV in Greenville.
The hurricane's storm surge is already visibly dramatic and represents an ongoing danger as the tides come in and the storm's winds continue to push more water over land.
Not everybody was heeding orders to evacuate, however.
"They refuse to evacuate", said Combs of a friend who lives a mile out from the beach.
The contraflow will end Thursday at noon on 501 and at 6 p.m. on I-26.
At least 12,000 people had taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Governor Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.