The hurricane was also deadly, killing five people.
Forecasters warned that drenching rains of 1 to 3 1/2 feet (30 centimetres to 1 metre) as the storm crawls westward across North and SC could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.
"We're estimating we've rescued 150-200", New Bern Police Lt. David Daniels said early Friday morning. The most dramatic effect of the storm hitting happened in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where part of the roof of a hotel collapsed causing 60 people, some of whom had evacuated their homes, to evacuate the hotel.
Residents of North or SC may receive this offer at any of the Tennessee Valley Fair admission gates.
The hurricane was "wreaking havoc" and could wipe out entire communities as it makes its "violent grind across our state for days", the governor said.
For days, coastal areas will be bombarded with torrential rain, high winds, coastal erosion and storm surge, while inland areas will be poured upon.
"Very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing sideways, debris flying", said Orsa, who lives nearby and feared splintering trees would pummel her house. The Neuse River rose rapidly, overcoming the streets of New Bern.
"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth", he said.
Hurricane Florence has made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, east of Wilmington, North Carolina at 7:15 a.m. reported CNN. 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. But that, combined with the storm's slowing forward movement and heavy rains, had Gov. Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster.
The National Hurricane Center described Florence's path as a wobble around southeastern North Carolina. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to our neighbors of North and SC".
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For people living inland in the Carolinas, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers.
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats that could be used to pluck people from the floodwaters.
Powerful hurricanes a year ago killed many residents in Texas and the United States territory of Puerto Rico.
"Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless", he said.
Coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, and at least 510,000 homes and businesses were without power, almost all of them in North Carolina, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the nation's electrical grid.
- A neon sign was no match for Hurricane strength winds. Nationwide, airlines cancelled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.
More than 80 000 people were already without power as the storm began buffeting the coast, and more than 12 000 were in shelters.
"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", New Bern city officials said on Twitter. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU".
Trump, who plans a visit to the region next week, tweeted his "deepest sympathies and warmth" to the families and friends of those who had lost their lives. "We have started to see the water recede". Damage primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery, and trees. Hundreds more had to be rescued elsewhere from rising waters.