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Florence peaked at a terrifying Category 4 with top winds of 140 mph over warm ocean water before making landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15am at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington and not far from the SC line.
A mother and her baby died when a tree fell on their home in Wilmington, North Carolina. The woman's husband was injured in the incident and taken to a nearby hospital, according to police.
A woman in Hampstead, in Pender County, died of an apparent heart attack after emergency crews could not clear debris to get to her.
Two people died in Lenoir County.
The two remaining fishing piers in Carteret County were damaged after Florence landed off the North Carolina coast and continues to churn on Friday. Cooper cited a National Weather Service forecast that said almost the entire state could be covered in several feet of water.
Myrtle Beach area residents checking the weather Saturday morning were led to believe that local emergency personnel had suspended services due to Tropical Storm Florence, but that was never the case.
Hurricane Florence edged closer to the east coast of the U.S. on Thursday, with tropical-force winds and rain already lashing barrier islands just off the North Carolina mainland.
The centre of the hurricane's eye came ashore at about 0715 EDT near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina, with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.
By Friday evening, the center of the storm had moved to eastern SC, about 15 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
As 645-kilometre-wide Florence pounded away at the coast with torrential downpours and surging seas, rescue crews used boats to reach more than 360 people besieged by rising waters in New Bern, while many of their neighbours awaited help. Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did. "Plant procedures call for the reactors to be shut down before the anticipated onset of hurricane-force winds", agency spokesman Joey Ledford told CNN. "These are folks who are maybe in one-story buildings and they are seeing the floodwaters rise". The highest numbers are being reported in New Hanover County. They ventured out in life jackets into the waste-deep water to tie the boat and another floating by to a tree. "We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees", said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor's appointment that was later cancelled. "Heavy rains and catastrophic flooding continue across portions of North Carolina and SC".
The group, which included an infant, children and pets, have been taken to the Jacksonville Center for Public Safety after portions of the roof collapsed. Numerous evacuees took their pets. Some areas of SC could see rainfall totals of up to 15 inches, forecasters said.
Tropical Storm Florence continued its slow march Saturday afternoon, moving at just 3 miles per hour as it continues bringing heavy bands of rain that state officials said will continue flooding rivers and roads.
As Florence moves further inland over the coming days, the storm is expected to gradually weaken.