"[It's] very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing sideways, debris flying", said Orsa, who lives nearby and fears splintering trees will pummel her house.
Michael Nelson floats in a boat made from a metal tub and fishing floats after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded his street during Hurricane Florence in New Bern, N.C., Thursday.
At the time, the storm carried winds of about 90 miles per hour (145 km/h), making it a Category 1 storm, but that ranking belies the hurricane's massive clouds and the downpour it is visiting on the coastline, with some areas already drenched in 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain.
Cooper said Florence was set to cover nearly all of the state in several feet of water. The actual landfall - when the center of the eye reaches land - will be Friday afternoon at the earliest, said Neil Jacobs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The National Weather Service shared images of Union Point on the shore at New Bern before and after the storm surge hit.
Rescue teams were also working to free around 150 people trapped in New Bern as city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts warned that the storm surge will increase further as Florence passes over the area. A city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts told WRAL-TV that 200 people have already been plucked to safety.More news: Apple launches the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max
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The impact is expected to be similar to that of Hurricane Harvey on the Houston area past year, Feltgen said. "So if you find yourself here, please get out", meteorologist Erika Navarro pleads, as the virtual waters rise above her head. So if you find yourself here, please get out. North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centres in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities. "Trees are blowing down in the wind".
Almost 300,000 customers in North Carolina were meanwhile reported to be without power as the outer band of the storm approached. Duke Energy, a power company in the Carolinas, estimated that one million to three million customers could lose electricity because of the storm and that it could take weeks to restore.
Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane with 120 miles per hour winds on Thursday but dropped to Category 1 before coming ashore. Significant weakening is expected over the weekend. About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders and millions of others live in areas likely to be affected by the storm.
Some 20,000 people had taken refuge in 157 emergency shelters, Cooper said. Forecasters said the onslaught could last for days, leaving a wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising seas. "I'm a little bit scared right now, but I have my iPad and I'm watching Netflix".
Florence was one of two major storms on Friday. The homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.