But weather officials have cautioned that Florence's promise of heavy rains - and the flash flooding and prolonged flooding it will cause - likely will be the storm's most risky impact, especially since the storm surges will block the usual flow of water back to the ocean.
News 6's Erik Sandoval was live in Wilmington shortly before the storm made landfall.
Rivers are rising on the north side of Hurricane Florence as the storm swirls counter-clockwise, pushing a surge of ocean water far in from the coast.
Myrtle Beach, a SC beach resort, was deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic.
The hurricane generated winds of more than 100 miles per hour and drove a ten-foot storm surge over beaches and boardwalks along a wide swathe of coastline.
Wind gusts as high as 60 miles per hour were recorded in the Myrtle Beach area.
"With this storm, it's a (Category 1) but the storm surge and the flooding is going to be that of a category 4", CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray said Thursday night.
The storm's center was about 50 miles south of Morehead City at around 11 p.m. EST (0300 GMT Friday).
Lower winds and lesser storm surges extended along the entire Atlantic coastline of North Carolina and much of the SC coast as well.
The Charlotte area is expected to see heavy rain and 30-40 miles per hour winds in the coming days, which could cause power outages and flooding in certain areas.
Hurricane Florence is making landfall in North Carolina Friday morning.
For the latest on Hurricane Florence, visit the FOX 46 Resource Center.
In Pender County, North Carolina, one woman died after she suffered a heart attack and paramedics were unable to reach her due to blocked roads authorities said. That's enough to fill more than 15 million Olympic-size swimming pools.
"There is some damage. but it is still standing strong".
"It looks heavy outside", she said.
Cheryl Browning lives with her husband and son, who has terminal cancer, in Richlands, North Carolina.
Hurricanes disproportionately endanger those with limited mobility or means, as they are less able to heed evacuation warnings.
Officials found a basketball-sized hole in the hotel wall and other life-threatening damage, with some cinder blocks crumbling and parts of the roof collapsing.
"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", New Bern city officials said on Twitter. He said some residents remained holdouts even after crews went door to door pleading for them to seek emergency shelter. "We have a safe basement and generator that comes on automatically".
Elsewhere in Wilmington, Linda Smith, a 67-year-old retired nonprofit director, was concerned as she watched wind gusts stir up frothy white caps on the Cape Fear River. "But I think it'll be OK".
Eudy said his family stayed in their home partly to protect their house.
"There is still time, but not a lot of time", said Derrec Becker of the South Carolina Department of Emergency Management.
Florence's center may linger for another whole day along the Carolinas' coast - punishing homes with crushing winds and floods and endangering those who've stayed behind. Tens of thousands of homes are without power and sea water.
Why is he open when the town is mostly evacuated? Six sheriff's officers came to his house to rescue him Friday morning, but he didn't need to leave since the water was dropping by then.
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, city officials posted photos of toppled gas pumps and a downed trees early Friday, warning residents to take shelter and avoid roadways.
On social media, people caught in the storm are posting dramatic videos of flooding and high winds. Hurricane Helene is veering toward Ireland and Great Britain. Significant weakening was expected over the weekend.