Later downgraded to a tropical storm, slow-moving Florence arrived over North and SC just after 7am local time on Friday, bringing torrential rain and severe floods.
After reaching a terrifying Category 4 peak of 140 mph (225 kph) earlier in the week, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m.at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles (kilometers) east of Wilmington and not far from the SC line.
The police force of Wilmington, the largest population centre in the impact zone, said via Twitter that a woman and her baby died after a tree fell on their home, while the father was taken to a nearby hospital.
The NHC described Florence as a "slow mover" and said it had the potential to dump historic amounts of rain on North and SC, as much as 40 inches (one meter) in some places.
"Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said.
Forecasters said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and then swing to the northeast, its remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by mid-week.
Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) but authorities warned the danger was far from over, predicting that "life-threatening storm surges and strong winds" would persist through the night.
The hurricane has claimed its first victims as it crashed into North Carolina, making landfall near Wrightsville Beach. He said parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges - the bulge of seawater pushed ashore by the hurricane - as high as 10 feet. At the time of landfall, Florence had sustained winds of 90 miles per hour with gusts hitting 106 miles per hour.
"Amazing. They did awesome", said Knox, who was stranded with seven others, including a boy carried out in a life vest.
"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.
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As of noon, Emerald Isle had more than 23 inches (58 centimeters) of rain, and Wilmington and Goldsboro had about a foot (30 centimeters).
New Bern touts itself as the second-oldest city in North Carolina.
Officials in New Bern, which dates to the early 18th century, said more than 100 people were rescued from floods and the downtown was under water by Friday afternoon.
Shaken after seeing waves crashing on the Neuse River just outside his house in New Bern, restaurant owner and hurricane veteran Tom Ballance wished he had evacuated. It introduced the ocean with it, pushing a storm surge inland that's predicted to reach up to 4 metres deep in some areas.
Florence was a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale with 120-mph winds on Thursday.
The city of New Bern, North Carolina, reported more than 1,200 911 calls in a 12-hour span, and roughly 4,300 residences and 300 commercial buildings damaged.
The White House said Friday U.S. President Donald Trump will travel to areas hit by Hurricane Florence next week, once it has been determined that his travel would not disrupt any rescue or recovery efforts.
Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms. The few cars out on a main street in Wilmington had to swerve to avoid fallen trees, metal debris and power lines.
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Scientists can't say - yet - that climate change helped make Florence worse.