At noon, the wobbly center of Florence was about 25 miles (45 kilometers) southwest of Wilmington, its winds down to 80 mph (130 kmh), forecasters said.
Tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles from its center.
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 and for those streams to crest. At least three people were killed.
Forecasters said conditions will continue to deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.
"And remember that rivers keep on rising even after the rain stops".
More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing cinderblock motel.
As Florence pounded away, it unloaded heavy rain, flattened trees, chewed up roads and knocked out power to more than a half-million homes and businesses.
Wilmington should be ready for a prolonged and devastating impact as Hurricane Florence roars over Southeastern North Carolina on Friday.
- A husband and wife died in a Fayetteville, North Carolina house fire on Friday, the state's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says.
"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth", he said.
Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour (225 km/h), the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night in the US. But the hurricane had slowed to a crawl, drenching coastal communities for hours on end.
The Verge says the Weather Channel has partnered with augmented reality company The Future Group to create the videos, which use the Unreal Engine, a video game development platform seen in many popular games today.
The eye of the storm passed over the coast near Wrightsville Beach, northeast of Wilmington, at 7:15 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said. It started pushing its way westward across SC later in the day, in a watery siege that could go on all weekend.
People have left homes and taken precautions ahead of the hurricane.
Hurricane Florence damages, evacuates Jacksonville NC hotel
About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed, with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
Governor Roy Cooper has warned of an impending disaster.
At least 188,000 people were without power in North Carolina and SC early on Friday.
The flooding soon spread into SC, swamping places like North Myrtle Beach, in a resort area known for its white sands and multitude of golf courses.
North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons, enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches.
The Weather Channel has been using mixed reality to great effect with its reporting on Hurricane Florence, showing how the water may rise and swallow buildings and cars in its path. Gusty winds will send the ocean and rivers spilling into neighborhoods. Roof shingles were peeled off a hotel.
A gust of 105 miles per hour was recorded at Wilmington airport, surpassing the power of Hurricane Fran two decades ago.
Nationwide, airlines canceled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.
The powerful Atlantic storm began battering the Carolinas with rain, wind and floodwater.
According to Colleen Roberts, a spokeswoman for the city, 150 people were waiting to be rescued Friday morning after about 200 were rescued overnight.
- Authorities in the coastal city of New Bern were working with federal responders to rescue at least 150 residents who reported themselves stranded in Hurricane Florence's storm surge. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU".
The wind howled and sheets of rain splattered against windows of a hotel before daybreak in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the power failed.
"We live in a mobile home so we were just like 'No way, '" she said.
Many residents were ordered to evacuate the Carolinas and Virginia before the storm hit, but it's not clear how many heeded the warnings. Officials said about 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did.