Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7.15 am (9.15pm AEST) at Wrightsville Beach, a few kilometres east of Wilmington, as the centre of its eye moved onshore, the National Hurricane Centre said.
Avair Vereen, her fiance and one of her seven children at a shelter in Conway, South Carolina yesterday as several states along the USA eastern coast were bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Florence.
Some areas could receive as much as 40 inches (one meter) of rain, forecasters said.
As the driving rain and pounding winds reached land Friday, a few of the locals who chose to ride out the storm reached for their cameras to capture Florence's fury from a firsthand perspective.
The National Hurricane Center says Florence is producing tropical storm-force wind gusts in Florence, South Carolina, about 60 miles from the coast.
Florence contains maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour. A tweet from the NWS said the storm would be "a marathon vs. a sprint" as it hovered over the area dumping heavy rainfall.
We have wind and rain.
"Very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing sideways, debris flying", said Orsa, who lives nearby and feared splintering trees would pummel her house.
"Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless", he said.
The storm's maximum sustained winds held at about 90 miles per hour, and it appeared that the north side of the eye was the most risky place to be as Florence moved ashore.
The Wilmington airport had a wind gust clocked at 105 miles per hour (169 kph), the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958.
A fallen tree crashed through the home where a woman and her baby were killed in Wilmington, N.C., after Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday. We have 2 out-of-state FEMA teams here for swift water rescue.
The Red Cross said more than 1,600 people spent Thursday night in 36 Red Cross and community shelters in the Carolinas.
Millions were asked to evacuate the Carolina coasts as Florence approached this week.More news: Hurricane Helene could bring severe weather to the United Kingdom next week
In South Carolina, 155,000 customers are without power, officials said.
As of Friday morning, Hurricane Florence has left more than 370,000 without power in North Carolina.
At least 12,000 people have taken refuge in 126 emergency shelters, Cooper said, with more facilities being opened.
At least 88,000 people were without power in North Carolina with the brunt of the storm yet to come, according to the state's emergency management agency. Forecasters said the torrents could continue for days, touching off disastrous flooding. Officials said about 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did. The storm's slowing forward movement and heavy rains had Gov. Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster.
Spanish moss waved in the trees as the winds picked up in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City.
Already Thursday, streets were transformed into raging streams and massive waves surged along the Outer Banks.
Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia.
In New Bern, North Carolina, Mayor Dana Outlaw said early Friday that more than 100 water rescues had been undertaken after floodwaters reached more than 10 feet.
Hurricane Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 storm as of the 11 p.m. Thursday update from the National Hurricane Center but it is still a risky storm.
But forecasters said its extreme size meant it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for almost a full day.
The hurricane was seen as a major test for the country's Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico past year.
Not everyone was taking Florence too seriously.
Not everyone was taking Florence seriously: About two dozen locals gathered Thursday night behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington.