At least four people were killed.
Forecasters say the center of Hurricane Florence is hovering just inland near Cape Fear, North Carolina.
Authorities in New Bern, a town of about 30,000 people that dates to the early 18th century, said more than 100 people had to be rescued from floods.
More than 415,000 homes and businesses were without power on Friday morning, according to poweroutage.us which tracks the nation's electrical grid. Significant weakening is expected at the weekend.
More than 415,000 homes and businesses were without power September 14 morning according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the nation's electrical grid.
"It's an uninvited brute who doesn't want to leave", said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.
"The fact is this storm is deadly and we know we are days away from an ending", Cooper said.
Though Florence won't be making landfall until Friday, tropical-storm-force winds - 39 to 73 miles per hour (63 to 117 km/h) - will begin whipping through coastal regions as early as tomorrow, making it exceptionally risky to be outside, Graham said.
The fifth, a 78-year-old man, was found dead on a street outside of Kinston.
Just after midnight, the station tweeted that everyone had safely evacuated.
"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth", he said. It came ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.More news: Wind, flooded roads herald approach of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina
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More news: Hurricane Florence starts its prolonged assault on the Carolinas
But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind. The storm is more than likely to develop into a tropical depression and bring several inches of rain to the Houston area.
The NWS predicted Florence could drop up to eight months' worth of rain in two or three days.
Waves slam the Oceana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the area.
Storm surge flooding does not include floods caused by the heavy rain from the hurricane, such as what happened a year ago in Houston with Hurricane Harvey and in North Carolina in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew. "I encourage Georgians to be prepared for the inland effects of the storm as well as the ensuing storm surge in coastal areas".
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats that could be used to pluck people from the floodwaters.
Portions of a boat dock and boardwalk are destroyed by powerful wind and waves as Hurricane Florence arrives September 13, 2018, in Atlantic Beach, N.C.
Anxious about how the government will respond to Hurricane Florence's devastation? In Hurricane Sandy in 2012, storm surge-induced flooding measured as high as 9 feet above ground in parts of NY and New Jersey, leading to billions of dollars in damages.
Wind gusts as high as 60 miles per hour were recorded in the Myrtle Beach area. Nationwide, airlines canceled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, more than 60 people were evacuated from a hotel after part of the roof collapsed, city officials said.
Downtown New Bern, on the Neuse River also is flooded.