Ballance called the rainfall "biblical", saying he's gotten reports from friends that his downtown seafood restaurant was flooded, just like the rest of the small city's historic downtown, and he's anxious about the hundreds of people who needed to be rescued overnight in the city. More are expected, as the storm could bring winds up to 45 miles per hour around the area, according to Durham County emergency management officials.
More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing cinderblock motel at the height of the storm.
Florence flattened trees, crumbled roads and knocked out power to more than 700,000 homes and businesses, and the assault wasn't anywhere near an end.
"This storm will bring destruction", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said.
But forecasters say Florence's biggest threat, as with all hurricanes, lies in its water: a storm surge of up to 11 feet and rainfall that will trigger catastrophic flooding.
Authorities have confirmed those storm-related deaths, including a mother and her infant child who died after a tree fell on their home in New Hanover County, where the storm hit Friday morning with a 105 miles per hour wind gust, the strongest wind in the city since 1958.
A 68-year-old man was electrocuted at a residence on Silver Smith Circle Friday morning when he was trying to connect two extension cords outside in the rain.More news: Hurricane Florence claims first victims as tree kills mum and baby
Shaken after seeing waves crashing on the Neuse River just outside his house in New Bern, restaurant owner and hurricane veteran Tom Ballance wished he had evacuated.
The storm officially made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina at 7:15 a.m. (1115 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said. It came ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline. It's since slowed down even more than it had been - moving west at just 2 miles per hour. "Lots of water, lots of wind, lots of storm surge".
Florence is going southwest after landfall.
One city in North Carolina has picked up more than 23 inches (58 centimetres) of rain in two days. Other communities got well over a foot (30 centimetres).
By 2 p.m., more than 658,000 customers were without power across North Carolina, and the Triangle had begun to experience outages.
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of environmental havoc from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms. The Carteret Country Sheriff's Office confirmed that two deaths initially reported as a result of Florence in North Carolina were a result of an apparent murder-suicide.More news: Reasons to buy Apple's iPhone XR instead of an iPhone XS
It is expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern SC on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said.
He said 20,000 people were being housed in shelters across the state.
The National Hurricane Center described Florence's path as a wobble around southeastern North Carolina.
On Friday, coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air, and at least 525,000 homes and businesses were without power, almost all of them in North Carolina. The few cars out on a main street in Wilmington had to swerve to avoid fallen trees, metal debris and power lines.
More than 1,300 flights for Friday had been canceled along the East Coast. The agency adds that people trapped by flooding should "never enter attics or crawl spaces".
This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
"These are folks who chose to stay and ride out the storm for whatever reason, despite having a mandatory evacuation", she said. "We knew it was coming, and we're working very hard to keep our citizens safe", Outlaw said.More news: Isaac Now a Tropical Depression But Rains Still Coming
"We have a house that was destroyed in Irma", Griffin said. Many more who defied evacuation orders were hoping to be rescued. "I wouldn't have left", Scott Baker told NPR outside the shelter at Trask Middle School in Wilmington, N.C. Baker lives in Wilmington, which was expected to receive the strongest wind and rain. There had been no reports of fatalities or injuries so far, she said.