- Family-of-three crushed when tree fell onto home in Wilmington, North Carolina, following heavy winds
- Two of those inside are thought to have died while one injured man was stretched into an ambulance
- Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at 7.15am - winds are now up to 80mph
- Officials warned the storm will 'get worse' and 18 trillion gallons of rain is forecast over the next seven days
- Storm is now tracking south-west at 6mph, lifting huge amounts of ocean moisture and dumping it on land
- More than 60 people were rescued from a collapsing hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, early on Friday
- Rescue teams are working to free those trapped in New Bern after the nearby Neuse River burst its banks
- The Neuse River near the city is recording more than 10 feet of inundation, the National Hurricane Center said
- In Jacksonville, more than 60 people rescued from a hotel as building's structural integrity was threatened
- Even before Florence hit land, life-threatening storm surge was reported along the coast of the Carolinas
- Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph, Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday
Two people are thought to have died after a huge tree toppled onto a family home on Friday morning, in the first reported fatalities linked to Hurricane Florence.
The tree fell onto the house in Wilmington, North Carolina, at around 9.30am and trapped a family-of-three inside, according to police. Rescuers frantically tried to haul the tree off the house to rescue the family, but were unable to do so so called for help from the National Guard.
Two of those inside died, according to unconfirmed reports on the ground, while one man was seen being stretched away to an ambulance.
Florence will continue to edge its way across the Carolinas for days, according to officials, who warned there was far more destruction and human suffering to come. 'It's getting worse,' North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said late on Friday morning, branding the rains a 'thousand-year event'.
The eye of the storm smashed into North Carolina just after 7am, with three inches of rain falling every hour and 80mph winds sparking an 11-foot storm surge. Over seven days, 18 trillion gallons of rain is expected to fall across the Carolinas and Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. The wind speed has dropped slightly from 90mph when it made landfall to 75mph as of 2pm ET.
'I see a biblical proportion flood event that's going to occur,' Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous told ABC News. I see the beach communities being inundated with water and destruction that will be pretty, pretty epic in nature.'
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Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at 7.15am. At least 26,000 people sought refuge in shelters in the state and 625,000 homes and businesses were reported to be without power.
More than 60 people including children had to be pulled from a collapsing motel in Jacksonville at the height of the storm, and many more who defied evacuation orders were waiting to be rescued.
The hurricane knocked a basketball-sized hole in the wall of the Triangle Motor causing cinder blocks to crumble and the roof to fall down - while residents were still in their rooms. Fire crews had to force their way in and evacuate the guests to a shelter. None were hurt.
Rescue teams were also working to free around 150 to 200 people trapped in homes in New Bern as city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts warned that the storm surge will increase further as Florence passes over the area.
Some 150 to 200 people have already been rescued after the nearby Neuse River rose by 10 feet high since bursting its banks on Thursday.
The city warned that people 'may need to move up to the second story' but told them to stay put as 'we are coming to get you.' Some 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed, with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
In the besieged North Carolina city of New Bern alone, rescuers by midmorning Friday had plucked more than 200 people from rising waters, but about 150 more had to wait as conditions worsened and a storm surge reached 10 feet, officials said.
Florence's rain will reach 40 inches in some parts of the Carolinas, forecasters said. Rainfall totals will be similar to those in hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in 1999, Chris Wamsley of the National Weather Service said Friday morning.
'The only difference is, back then it was within 14 days,' he said. With Florence, 'we're looking at the same amount of rainfall in three days.'
Even before Florence hit land, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported 'life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds' along the coast of the Carolinas leaving coastal streets inundated with ocean water.
Like an out of control freight train, Florence entered into Wilmington, a port city of 120,000 people on the North Carolina coast, and started pummeling the city.
The city was plunged into darkness after losing its power grid shortly after 5am during some of the fiercest wind bursts.
Damages are starting to appear as large swaths of the roof of Hotel Ballast, a downtown tourism staple, are being peeled off one by one and sucked out into the sky.
The Cape Fear River, which usually lazies from east to west through the city's historic district, has been transformed into rapids.
As the day rose on Wilmington, residents discovered extensive damages. There are thousands of trees down in the city's historic district. Most streets are unpassable as uprooted large oak trees lie across the road.
At this point, the entire city is without electricity as electric lines have been cut off by falling trees and ripped up gutters from homes litter the streets.
Footage from television stations and social media showed raging waters hitting piers and jettys and rushing across coastal roads in seaside communities, including Topsail Beach, north of Wilmington, where storm surge waters damaged beachfront homes
Forecasters say the combination of a life-threatening storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline. The hurricane could cause $170 billion of property damage, according to one prediction.
Forecasters say 'catastrophic' freshwater flooding is expected over parts of the Carolinas.
But that, combined with the storm's slowing forward movement and heavy rains, had North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster.
'The worst of the storm is not yet here but these are early warnings of the days to come,' he said. 'Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience.'
Forecasters said conditions will deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.
Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph (225 kph), the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.
As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are 'supplied and ready,' and he disputed the official conclusion that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico, claiming the figure was a Democratic plot to make him look bad.
'This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,' Trump wrote.
'If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!'
Schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia, airlines canceled more than 1,500 flights, and coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely emptied out.
Around midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City. Some of the few people still left in Nags Head on the Outer Banks took photos of angry waves topped with white froth.
Wilmington resident Julie Terrell was plenty concerned after walking to breakfast past a row of shops fortified with boards, sandbags and hurricane shutters.
'It truly is really about the whole size of this storm,' National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. 'The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact - and we have that.'
The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as sluggish and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm probably a 7' in terms of worry, she said. 'Because it's Mother Nature. You can't predict.'
Forecasters' European climate model is predicting 2 trillion to 11 trillion gallons of rain will fall on North Carolina over the next week, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com. That's enough water to fill the Empire State Building nearly 40,000 times.
More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
Among those to shrug off evacuation orders in South Carolina was legendary singer Jimmy Buffet, who led a score of adrenaline-junkies waiting for the storm to hit as he headed to Folly Beach to surf the surges.
Posing with a surfboard and a thumbs-up the 71-year-old musician quoted his own lyrics writing: 'I ain't afraid of dying, I got no need to explain, I feel like going surfing in a hurricane.'
'On a serious note - respect mother nature, please be safe and listen to your local authorities,' he added in a Instagram post from Wednesday.
Homeless after losing her job at Walmart three months ago, 25-year-old Brittany Jones went to a storm shelter at a high school near Raleigh. She said a hurricane has a way of bringing everyone to the same level.
'It doesn't matter how much money you have or how many generators you have if you can't get gas,' she said. 'Whether you have a house or not, when the storm comes it will bring everyone together. A storm can come and wipe your house out overnight.'
Duke Energy Co. said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its four million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.
Scientists said it is too soon to say what role, if any, global warming played in the storm. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster because of human-caused climate change.
Florence's weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who worried that the storm could still be deadly.
Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that was later downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a Wilmington hotel several miles inland.
'Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated,' said Fisher, 74. 'I've got four cats inside the house. If I can't get back in a week, after a while they might turn on each other or trash the place.'
Authorities pushed back against any suggestion the storm's threat was exaggerated.
The police chief of a barrier island in Florence's bulls'-eye said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave.
'I'm not going to put our personnel in harm's way, especially for people that we've already told to evacuate,' Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said.
But not everyone was taking Florence too seriously - about two dozen locals gathered on Thursday night behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington.
'We'll operate without power; we have candles. And you don't need power to sling booze,' said owner Eli Ellsworth.
Others were at home hoping for the best.
'This is our only home. We have two boats and all our worldly possessions,' said Susan Patchkofsky, who refused her family's pleas to evacuate and stayed at Emerald Isle with her husband.
'We have a safe basement and generator that comes on automatically. We chose to hunker down.'
What Hurricane Florence storm surges could look like
A simulation weather video is showing what the life-threatening Hurricane Florence storm surge might look like if it reaches a frightening nine feet.
Life-threatening storm surges of up to 13 feet have been forecast in some areas in North and South Carolina.
The Weather Channel's forecast video shows the potential damage such surges could inflict on the southern states.
Dr Greg Postel, the network's hurricane specialist, said three feet of water was enough to knock people off their feet, potentially carry cars away and flood lower levels of buildings.
Six feet of storm surge could carry large objects like cars underwater and leave lower levels structures submerged in water, according to Dr Postel.
The video also gives a frightening indication of what nine feet of water looks like - completely submerging lower buildings.