Forecasters said conditions will deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.
Florence flattened trees, crumbled roads and the assault wasn't anywhere close to being over, with the siege in the Carolinas expected to last all weekend. More are on the way to help us.
"The worst of the storm is not yet here but these are early warnings of the days to come", North Carolina governor Roy Cooper said.
"She's been in a crate all night, and we both needed to get out of the house", Bianco said.
Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, unleashing severe flooding.
Among the dead were a mother and her infant child, who were killed in Wilmington, North Carolina, after a tree fell on their house, police said.
Shaken after seeing waves crashing on the Neuse River just outside his house in New Bern, restaurant owner and hurricane veteran Tom Ballance wished he had evacuated.
Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m.at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington and not far from the SC line, coming ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.
Tropical Storm Florence was about 25 miles (45 km) northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour (110 km/h), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It came ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.
But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind. In the Philippines, evacuations were under way with Super Typhoon Mangkhut expected to hit on Saturday in an area impacting an estimated 5.2 million people.
Florence's forward movement during the day slowed to a near-standstill - sometimes it was going no faster than a human can walk - and that enabled it to pile on the rain.
"I've never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked", Epperson said. One of those bears, typically bolted in front of a downtown business, floated on South Front Street, prompting the city to tweet: "Some of our beloved bears have wandered off".
Twitter user Natasha Patterson shared video of flooding in New Bern, North Carolina on social media.
The National Hurricane Center said Florence's eye wall is beginning to approach the North Carolina coast, bringing with it life-threatening storm surge.
It's about the water, not the wind, with Hurricane Florence making an extended stay along the North Carolina coast.
Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of an environmental disaster from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms. Florence will likely stay at tropical storm status until Monday morning when the tropical system moves northwestward into Tennessee.
Even before Florence officially made landfall, it had already caused more than 320,000 power outages reported in North Carolina and 4,400 more in SC. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with almost 4 inches of water, he calculated.
Hurricane Florence, as seen from the International Space Station.
Coastal streets flowed with frothy ocean water and tens of thousands lost electricity.
The Wilmington airport had a wind gust clocked at 105 miles per hour (169 kph), the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958, the weather service said. Airlines canceled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.
The 62 guests were rescused from The Triangle Motor Inn in Jacksonville which had been structurally damaged.
"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", the city of New Bern tweeted around 2 a.m.