A woman and her baby were killed when a tree fell on their house and at least two other storm-related deaths were reported as Hurricane Florence slammed into the Carolinas, dousing the eastern U.S. states with torrential rain and causing rivers to burst their banks. The child's injured father was taken to a hospital.
The White House said on Friday President Donald Trump had spoken with state and local officials, assuring them the federal government was prepared to help.
The centre of the hurricane's eye came ashore close to Wilmington, with sustained winds of 150km/h the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. It's the most powerful storm of 2018 so far.
And while Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday afternoon, meteorologists predict heavy rain - up to 2 feet of rain when all is said and done - will continue into the weekend.
The National Hurricane Center says the eyewall of Hurricane Florence is beginning to reach the North Carolina coast.
New Hanover County officials said Thursday morning that it could accept more residents seeking shelter at Trask Middle School, Eaton Elementary School, Codington Elementary School, the Johnson Pre-K Center and Noble Middle School.
Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday that Florence is "wreaking havoc" and he's concerned "whole communities" could be wiped away.
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More than 722,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and SC early on Friday, utility officials said. "Florence may be weakening but will have a large storm surge".
People survey the damage on Front Street in downtown New Bern, North Carolina.
A fourth person reportedly was killed while plugging in a generator in the state's Lenoir County, according to USA media.
The biggest danger, as forecasters saw it, was not the wind but the water: the storm surge along the coastline and the prospect of 1 to 3½ feet of rain over the next several days that could trigger catastrophic flooding in a slow-motion disaster well inland.
In Craven County, authorities say they received more than 150 telephone calls to rescue people in the historic town of New Bern because water had entered their homes. On Wednesday, officials said some of those shelters were at capacity, but in a statement early Thursday, county officials said they were "able to mobilize additional resources to accommodate the need for shelter space". "Just so you know that we are staying here to keep you up to date". Some parts of New Bern could be flooded with a possible 9-foot storm surge as the Category 2 hurricane approaches the United States. 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.
Grocery retailers have closed stores and curtailed shopping hours with the arrival of Hurricane Florence, which struck the North Carolina coast early Friday.
Travel on the state's roads has grown "extremely hazardous", said Jim Trogdon, the North Carolina transportation secretary, who warned in a late-morning briefing that a 500- to 1,000-year "flood event is anticipated".