Hurricane Florence made its swipe at Wilmington Friday, cutting power to thousands and priming eastern North Carolina for major flooding in the days ahead.
Florence was seen as a major test for FEMA, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared previous year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which was blamed for almost 3,000 deaths.
Forecasters say "it can not be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard associated with slow-moving Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland".
"To those in the storm's path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place", he said at a news conference in Raleigh, adding that Florence would "continue its violent grind across the state for days". Hundreds more were rescued elsewhere from rising water. It was crawling west at 5 miles per hour.
Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia. He said some residents remained holdouts even after crews went door to door pleading for them to seek emergency shelter. Flooding from those storms cut the county in half.
Some areas could receive as much as 40 inches (one meter) of rain, forecasters said.
As of 8 a.m. ET Friday, Florence was 10 miles south of Wilmington, North Carolina, and moving westward at around 6 mph.
In New Bern, WCTI television employees fled their studio Thursday night due to rising flood waters. But the storm was shaping up as a two-part disaster, with the second, delayed-action stage consisting of inland flooding, caused by rainwater working its way into rivers and streams. We know how to manage expectations. "We don't (where we're going) yet". "We just want people to be very careful".
Parts of North and SC can expect an additional 10 to 15 inches. That amount will cause catastrophic flooding throughout the Wilmington region and shatter rainfall records, according to the weather service.
"I can not overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren't watching for them you are risking your life", Gov. Roy Cooper said.
More than 22,000 patients evacuated from hospitals in SC.
It hit the coast as a Category 1 storm with 90 miles per hour maximum sustained winds, the NWS said.
Police said they were the first confirmed deaths directly related to storm, while the child's father was taken to the hospital.
Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather with his dog Canelo. And a man was knocked to the ground while outside and died, authorities said.
Two men were also killed in Lenoir County, North Carolina.
Evacuation orders have been lifted in several coastal SC counties as Florence continues to dump rain on the state.
As water levels rose, the city assured stranded residents help is coming. "We have an old jail building, and there was a sally port where vehicles could drive down into it", she says.
"The sheer size of the tree was not something you could quickly cut with a chain saw", Mason said.
She said she called 911, but no one came.
GoFundMe has verified a campaign for Task Force 75, a team of veterans who have brought boats and supplies to Wilmington, North Carolina, to help with search and rescue operations for people and animals. That advisory came out on August 30, when Florence was developing near the Cabo Verde Islands across the Atlantic.
The storm officially made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina at 7:15 am (1115 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said.