Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com calculated that 34 million people in the US could get at least 3 inches of rain from Florence, with more than 5.7 million people probably receiving at least a foot.
Wilmington Police confirmed that a mother and her infant died when a tree fell on their home. The father was transported to a hospital for treatment.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster on Saturday announced the death of a 61-year-old woman who died when her vehicle hit a downed tree on a highway.
He had bags packed just in case but made a decision to stay put on Wednesday, when forecasters downgraded the storm to a Category 2 hurricane.
Rain and surging seas inundated coastal areas.
The enormous storm crept at a 6 miles per hour pace, making it clear that the trouble was just beginning.
The defended President Donald Trump's earlier tweets claiming Democrats had inflated the death toll stemming from Hurricane Maria a year ago, saying he was "responding to the liberal media and San Juan Mayor [Carmen Yulîn Cruz] who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations". The city said two Federal Emergency Management Agency teams were working on swift-water rescues, and more were on the way.
"It has slowed", he said.
"The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard, that trying to get out we got thrown into trailers".
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The National Hurricane Center described Florence's path as a wobble around southeastern North Carolina.
The parts of the country still in the storm's path have been saturated by summer rains and can not soak up any surplus from Florence.
At 11 a.m., the centre of Florence was about 20 miles (30 kilometres) southwest of Wilmington, its winds down to 80 mph (130 kmh), according to the hurricane centre.
More than 360 people had been rescued by midafternoon Friday, hours after then-Hurricane Florence swept through, but another 140 were still waiting for help, city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts told The Associated Press.
Onslow County spokesman Cornelius Jordan said some visitors at the Triangle Motor Inn were able to drive away on their own, but emergency personnel had to take others to a safe location. Investigators said the fire started as a result by a candle that was being used during a power outage.
More than 800,000 customers in North Carolina were without power and 21,000 people were being housed in 157 shelters across the state.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned against such behavior as roads became increasingly risky. He urged residents to stay inside and not get in the way of emergency workers.
"We aren't going to try to restore power for quite some time, probably", Outlaw, the mayor, said. "It's an uninvited brute who doesn't want to leave".
The storm surge had decreased to about 8 feet later Friday morning, Roberts said, but that was mostly attributed to changes in the Neuse River's tide.
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Despite the night-time start, the temperature was around 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and the humidity intense. "I am spent. It afforded him a more relaxing race than expected - heat aside - given Ferrari's advantage during practice this weekend.
Shaken after seeing waves crashing in the Neuse River just outside his house in the town of New Bern, hurricane veteran Tom Ballance wished he had evacuated.
"Please, everybody stay home", Blake Wallace, the county sheriff said on the phone.
Emergency crews were stretched thin. State Sen. Danny Britt, R, put out a call on Facebook for volunteers to fill the sandbags and, with the help of 40 members of the National Guard, dam a railway channel that has been problematic during floods.
Roads are particularly bad in Pamlico and Craven counties, with major and secondary roads flooded, according to Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon. 'Our pressing concern right now is the extreme flooding and storm surge... Areas from Wilmington through Fayetteville to Charlotte will experience 500-year to 1,000-year flood events, he said.
As of Friday morning, the state was housing nearly 20,000 people in 157 shelters, Gov. Cooper told Steve Inskeep of NPR's Morning Edition.
In a separate briefing, Steve Goldstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said some areas have already received two feet of rain and could expect up to 20 inches more as the system moved "slowly, almost stationary" over eastern North Carolina.
Others who chose to stay at home perhaps regretted their decision.
Wake County, which includes the state capital Raleigh, opened three new shelters Thursday that it said could hold as many as 1,100 people. A US Geological Service gauge for the Trent River in New Bern was "recording 10.1 feet of inundation" as of 1 a.m. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", it added.
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