Forecasters warned that the expected rainfall of up to 40 inches may be the real hazard from the storm, which was expected to slowly move southwest into SC before turning north.
More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel at the height of the storm, and many more who defied evacuation orders were hoping to be rescued.
More than 415,000 homes and businesses were without power on Friday morning, according to poweroutage.us which tracks the nation's electrical grid.
"We are not turning away that help", she said. "We might leave", she said.
The dead included a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. The governor's office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain.
Tom Balance, owner of a seafood restaurant in New Bern, had decided against evacuating his home and was soon alarmed to see waves coming off the Neuse and the water getting higher and higher.
As of 4 a.m., Florence was 30 miles (45 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.
"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth".
Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday morning on the North Carolina coast, with its strong winds and blinding rain having already driven unsafe storm surges of several feet into nearby beach and river towns. It blew ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.
But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind.
Storm surges of up to 11 feet are predicted between Cape Fear and Cape Lookout in North Carolina.
Widespread heavy rain likely as Florence pushes northeast.
Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic. Another one of the bears ended up in the middle of the street in the background.
Hurricane Florence lashes United States east coast, triggers flood warnings
More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm approached, and more than 12,000 were in shelters. Evacuations have begun for people who live in the path of the hurricane which is expected to last a few days.
The storm's maximum sustained winds held at about 90 miles per hour (144 km/h), and it appeared that the north side of the eye was the most unsafe place to be as Florence moved ashore.
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.
According to fuel-station finding app GasBuddy, about 52 percent of stations Thursday in Wilmington, North Carolina were out of gas.
Authorities warned, too, of risks of mudslides and environmental disasters from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves almost nine metres high as Florence churned toward shore.
The Miami-based center says Florence is bringing "catastrophic" fresh water flooding over a wide area of the Carolinas.
After landfall, Florence slowed to a pace that meant it would plague the area with days of flooding.
North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons (36 trillion liters), enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimeters).
A spokesperson for the ABC affliciate said roads around the building were flooding.
The NWS reported "lots of tree damage, debris and power lines down" across Harkers Island, N.C. It was moving west at 3 miles per hour, the National Weather Service said. Airlines canceled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.
The city tweeted early Friday that 150 people were awaiting rescue.
"You can't get over till we have power and we have sewer up and running", said the retired teacher and real estate agent, who rode out the hurricane in an inland hotel.