Forecasters warned that drenching rains of 1 to 3½ feet (30 centimeters to 1 meter) as the hurricane-turned-tropical storm crawls westward across North and SC could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.
Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the US East Coast as a Category 2 hurricane with winds up to 110mph - slower than yesterday but covering a wider area.
The storm was a risky Category 4 hurricane Wednesday but has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm Thursday. It is now at Category 1.
Friday looks hot and dry with only a slim chance of a few spotty showers as Hurricane Florence stalls near the North Carolina-South Carolina border.
The city of about 29,000, which was founded in the early 1700s and was briefly the state capital, is near the North Carolina coast and is bordered on the east and south, respectively, by two rivers.
At least 280,000 people are already without power as the outskirts of the storm lashed North and SC, and Virginia.
Florence is widely seen as a test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), whose capabilities were stretched thin previous year as it responded to three major hurricanes.
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The hurricane's storm surge - the wall of water it pushed in from the Atlantic - "overwhelmed" the town of New Bern at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said.
For Western North Carolina, the storm is not going to be felt until Saturday. But once New Bern TV news station WCTI evacuated its newsroom Thursday night because of flooding and people began to lose power, the seriousness of the situation began dawning on folks, she said.
And in Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified, causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker.
Myrtle Beach's courses accounted for half of the $2.7 billion in economic output that golf generated for the SC economy in 2015, according to a report from the state's Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
"We got a little bit of water inside, but things weren't so bad", Church said. "But we can't replace us so we made a decision to come here".
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As of 8 p.m., Florence was centered about 85 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, its forward movement slowed to 5 mph (7 kph).
State officials and the National Weather Service warned the storm's weakening only relates to wind speed, not the storm surges or flooding that will accompany the hurricane.
"Other sources are predicting a financial toll for Florence of up to $170 billion, and we think that is extreme when looking at Florence's track and impacts to people and their lives", Myers said.
Rivers are expected to burst their banks.Some 1.7 million people have been ordered to evacuate from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Myrtle Beach, a SC beach resort, was virtually deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic. The company said as many as three-fourths of its 4 million customers in North Carolina and SC could lose power.
"It is imperative that everyone follow local evacuation orders". But even so, Floyd dumped two feet of rain on North Carolina. Also, a 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, and a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain, authorities said.
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Florence is forecast to trigger severe flash flooding as it dumps up to three feet (almost a meter) of rain in some areas. San Juan's mayor blames Trump for delays in getting supplies and money to the island.