Watch South Carolina BATTERED by gale force winds

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The governor's office said a third person was killed while plugging in a generator.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference that the "historic" hurricane would unleash rains and floods that would inundate nearly the entire state in several feet of water.

In Jacksonville, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull people out of the Triangle Motor Inn after the cinderblock structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) downgraded it to a tropical storm on Friday, but warned it would dump as much as 30 to 40 inches (76-102 cm) of rain on the south-eastern coast of North Carolina and part of north-eastern SC.

As of 2 p.m. ET, Florence's sustained winds dropped to 75 miles per hour and it was slowly heading inland after wobbling along the coast, the National Hurricane Center said.

Susan Hedgepeth is assisted along with her dog Cooper by members of the U.S. Coast Guard in Lumberton, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, following flooding from Hurricane Florence.

Parts of North and SC were forecast to get as much as 40 inches of rain (1 meter). Twenty inches (50 cm) were reported by early Friday afternoon in the town of Oriental.

In a display of the early effects of the storm, one flood gauge on the Neuse River in New Bern, North Carolina, showed 10 feet (three meters) of flooding, the NHC said. "These are folks who chose to stay and ride out the storm for whatever reason, despite having a mandatory evacuation", city public information officer Colleen Roberts said.

"There's mud all over the floor and the wood floors have buckled", she said, adding they planned to return to her brother's house because of the musty smell that pervades their home. "These are folks who are maybe in one-story buildings and they are seeing the floodwaters rise".

President Donald Trump is expected to travel to areas hit by Florence next week, once it is determined his travel will not disrupt any rescue or recovery efforts, the White House said on Friday. "The best thing to do is stay at home until this thing blows out of here".

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AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Matt Rinde said: "Significant wind damage will lead to utility outages that may last several weeks, especially along the immediate coastline".

"It's insane", he said in a phone interview.

About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders and millions of others live in areas likely to be affected by the storm.

Perry says his department has been in contact with power companies and gas pipeline operators.

By Friday evening, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm, its winds weakening to 70 miles per hour as it pushed inland.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a right hook to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.

"When the conditions in the area intensified suddenly, we made the call to have our news staff evacuate the area and team up with our sister station WPDE in Myrtle Beach to continue covering the storm and providing our viewers with vital, potentially life-saving, information", General Manager Matt Bowman said in a statement posted to the station's website.

Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it's unclear how many did. It had already opened three shelters that filled up with coastal evacuees. "So we made a decision to stay", she said.

According to a report from the J.P. Morgan Chase Institute, extreme weather events like the one now battering the Carolinas and Virginia can have far-reaching effects on consumers' wallets, impacting their spending for months after the storm has cleared.