More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing cinderblock motel. Hundreds more had to be rescued elsewhere from rising waters.
"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", the city of New Bern tweeted. "We've had it reported to where it's over mailboxes, to the stairs of homes, even at first, second floors to where people are having to get on their roofs".
According to poweroutage.us, more than 500,000 customers in North Carolina and 50,000 in SC were without power on Friday morning, though the Weather Channel estimates up to 3 million customers could lose power in the Carolinas due to Florence.
Rainfall will be one of the most destructive elements of hurricane Florence, with heavy rain triggering risky flash floods and potential landslides.
Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared past year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the storm was blamed for almost 3,000 deaths in the desperate aftermath.
Roberts said rescuers were facing very challenging conditions, but assured residents help was on the way.
As of 6 a.m., Florence was 10 miles (20 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Forecasters say the center of the eye of Hurricane Florence is about to make landfall near Wrightsville, North Carolina.
Further up the coast in New Jersey, Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City opened its doors to let Hurricane Florence evacuees stay for free. "Everybody laughs at the fact that this storm got downgraded. but I've never seen tree devastation this bad".
Michael Nelson floats in a boat made from a metal tub and fishing floats after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded his street during Hurricane Florence September 13, 2018 in New Bern, North Carolina. The company, which recently hit a $1 trillion valuation, also donated 100,000 food items and more than 30,000 bottles of water to Feeding America, Amazon announced in a blog post.
North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centres in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities.
Video reports from several towns in the Carolinas showed emergency personnel wading through rippling thigh-high floodwaters in residential neighborhoods. "This could be enough to knock you off your feet", says Navarro.
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