About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.
Blowing ashore with howling 155 km/h winds, Florence splintered buildings, trapped hundreds of people and swamped entire communities along the Carolina coast Friday in what could be just the opening act in a watery, two-part, slow-motion disaster.
"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", the city tweeted around 2am.
"And we're not done yet", Graham said, adding that some hard-hit areas could get an additional 15 to 20 inches because the storm was moving so slowly.
There were no immediate reports of any deaths.
Roads became flooded, trees blown over and homes destroyed as some parts of North Carolina have already seen surges of flood water as high as 10ft.
Two fins were spotted in the high water in Wilmington.
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.
Here is the newest information on Tropical Storm Florence.
Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of an environmental disaster from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
More than 800,000 customers in North Carolina were without power and 21,000 people were being housed in 157 shelters across the state. Traffic lights out of order because of power failures swayed in the gusty wind. Now its maximum sustained winds are about 50mph (80km/h) and it's a tropical storm.
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There are, however, bright spots in certain settings where policies and programs have made it easier to eat well and exercise. Colorado fared relatively well with an obesity rate of just 22.6, while West Virginia has the worst rate at 38.1 percent.
Florence's eye made landfall over the Wrightsville Beach water tower about 7:15 a.m. Friday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Wilmington.
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 electricity went out. But its slow march over the two states, crawling west at only 2 miles per hour (3 km per hour), threatens to leave much of the region under water in the coming days. Numerous calls are from residents who are trapped in their homes, some of whom reported floodwater rising up to the second floor.
Wilmington was battered by high winds and rising flood water as a pier was smashed by a huge wave. "Nothing's hit the house yet, but it's still blowing".
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull dozens of people out of the Triangle Motor Inn after the structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse.
In New Bern, North Carolina, the storm surge overwhelmed the town of 30,000 which is located at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers.
Florence already has set a North Carolina record for rainfall totals, exceeding that of Hurricane Floyd, which struck in 1999 and caused 56 deaths.
"The flood danger from this storm is more immediate today than when it made landfall just 24 hours ago." the North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a press conference.
"There is still time, but not a lot of time", said Derrec Becker of the South Carolina Department of Emergency Management.
Charlotte and Asheville in North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia, could also be in for heavy rains as Florence plods inland.
A person inside the house in the 700 block of Violet Street reported leg pain as a result of the incident and was taken to a hospital, according to Lexington County spokesman Harrison Cahill.
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