Florence arrived at the Carolina coast as a Category 1 storm, with winds far slower than the fearsome 150 miles per hour of just a few days ago.
Yesterday, the European Space Agency released a short video of astronauts aboard the space station watching the storm out of the cupola armed with powerful cameras to capture its giant knot of storm clouds.
But the size of the storm meant the path didnt really matter.
In the besieged North Carolina town of New Bern, rescuers plucked more than 100 people from rising waters, but about 150 more had to wait when conditions worsened and a storm surge reached 10 feet.
We moved all the furniture up in case the water comes in but the water seems to be staying at the edge of the driveway, he said, adding that if the wind picks up and the rain keeps coming, that could change. But some communities were already submerged in more than six feet of water as the storm drenched the coast.
By 9:30 a.m., more than 500,000 customers were without power across North Carolina, and the Triangle had begun to experience outages.
As of 6 a.m., Florence was 10 miles (20 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina. "We're going to have to have patience, we're going to have to be careful and we're going to have to deal with a lot of water".
It's unclear exactly how many people evacuated, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.
Governor Cooper said there have been "several hundred" rescue operations and "there are still some people they need to get to". "After the rain, it's flooding and river flooding as well". Harris Teeter, a Kroger Co. subsidiary, announced closings for 24 stores in North Carolina and 18 stores in SC. They had heeded officials' warnings that the storm was treacherous, with record-setting rains and storm surges not seen in North Carolina in decades.
Whether residents left their homes, sought refuge in a shelter or are hunkering down, the weather service has bad news: After creeping inland, Florence "is expected to slow down even more today and tonight".
More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia and thousands have moved to emergency shelters. Three other Southern raceways also opened campgrounds to evacuees.
"We're in God's hands", said Rick Foreman, pastor at West Lumberton Baptist Church, as the Lumber River steadily rose Friday and local residents filled sandbags.
Spanish moss waved in the trees as the winds picked up in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City.
What is known was that as of 11 p.m. Friday, Florence's maximum winds were recorded at 65 miles per hour while it was hovering near Conway, NWS Columbia reported.
President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in SC ahead of the storm.
That said, the storm is still expected to stall once it hits the Wilmington coast, with weather officials early Thursday raising the expected total rainfall for Wilmington to 35 inches - weather officials had predicted 30 inches for Wilmington in briefings released Wednesday. Coastal storm surge is expected to be as high as 13 feet, according to the National Hurricane Center.
"We are still in hurricane season so there's always a chance that we'll have another one, plus winter is coming so these might be items that people can use", Whitaker said.
Authorities warned, too, of risks of mudslides and environmental disasters from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
"The evacuation was countywide, but since we're not in a flood zone, we weren't really anxious about that", she told VOA.
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Officials in New Bern said over 100 people were rescued from floods and the downtown was under water by Friday afternoon. Harris Teeter, a Kroger Co. subsidiary, announced closings for 24 stores in North Carolina and 18 stores in SC .
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