By Friday morning Florence had already sapped power to almost 450,000 customers in the Carolinas, emergency officials said.
This is a developing story.
By the time Florence moves through early Saturday, it will leave heavy rain totals in its wake, forecasters said.
As of 5 a.m., Florence was 25 miles (55 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.
CNN's not the only media outlet with reporters in the way of Florence, delivering scoops on what rain and wind look like.More news: Kofi Annan Gave Me Sensitive Advice - Nana Addo
The heaviest rain in Raleigh will be around noon, Gardner said, and we could see wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour by that time.
Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did. By midnight, Amy Johnson in Belhaven, North Carolina, on the Pungo River posted a video of raging floodwaters that had inundated the first floor of her home. Officials said at least 150 people were "awaiting rescue" early Friday morning as the unsafe.
The worst of the storm's fury had yet to reach coastal SC, where emergency managers said people could still leave flood-prone areas.
Benjamin Brown is a reporter for Fox News.
The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) predicted that waters could raise anywhere from 2 to a deadly 13 feet, they wrote on Twitter. Roberts says the storm surge continues to increase as Florence passes over the area.
Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but then reconsidered.More news: Hurricane Florence's onslaught threatens disaster in North Carolina
Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m.at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington, not far from the SC line, coming ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 miles per hour (160 kph), but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. The storm is massive and was a Category 4 hurricane at its worst that will devastate anything it encounters.
Gov. Roy Cooper requested additional federal disaster assistance in anticipation of what his office called "historic major damage" across the state. By 5 p.m., the rain bands will be moving north.
Winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence moved in for an extended stay, with enough of its killer winds swirling overseas to maintain its power.
"We're still going to get catastrophic inland flooding from heavy rains and multibillion-dollar storm-surge damage along the coast where it hits, " said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.More news: Florence begins to batter Carolina coast — WHAT'S HAPPENING