Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m.at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington, not far from the SC line, coming ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 3.4 metres of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 90 centimetres of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Florence arrived at the Carolina coast as a Category 1 storm - its 90 miles per hour sustained winds far below the fearsome 150 miles per hour that it packed just days ago.
A tornado watch was also in effect for parts of North Carolina.
And at Wayne Christian School in Goldsboro, NC near Fayetteville, students worship as the storm nears, singing, "Your love surrounds me, in the eye of the storm", as everyone prays for another downgrade of the storm's power. "Today the threat becomes a reality", he said.
More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm began buffeting the coast, and more than 12,000 were in shelters.
Some Florence evacuees are steering toward Bristol Motor Speedway near the Tennessee-Virginia border and Atlanta Motor Speedway, where campgrounds have been opened for people fleeing the storm. President Donald Trump said there was nothing to fear because his administration did such good work responding to last year's storms - including Hurricane Maria, which killed 3,000 people in Puerto Rico.
"It truly is really about the whole size of this storm", said National Hurricane Center Director Kenneth Graham. "The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact - and we have that". Despite weakening to a Category 1 storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency gives this ominous warning: "Don't focus on the category of the storm".
The outer bands of Hurricane Florence have reached Wilmington, with weather officials saying the storm will bring unprecedented rain to the region.
Adding to the storm stress is uncertainty about where exactly Florence will make landfall, after a shift in its track put more of the Southeast in danger.
Spanish moss waved in the trees as the winds picked up in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City.
Wilmington resident Julie Terrell was plenty concerned after walking to breakfast past a row of shops fortified with boards, sandbags and hurricane shutters. "Because it's Mother Nature".
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Here for me it isn't for a lot of the time speaking about what people are telling us. I look at him with the focus totally here.
One climate model is predicting that as much as 11 trillion gallons of rain will fall on North Carolina in the coming week - an amount that's enough to fill the Empire State Building 40 times over. That's enough water to fill the Empire State Building almost 40,000 times.
Hurricane Florence is closing in on the Carolinas Thursday morning as more than 10 million people brace for the worst.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said driving through floodwaters was a leading cause of death during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.
As of 5 a.m., Florence was 25 miles (55 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.
As the storm continues toward Southeastern North Carolina, it will bring life-threatening storm surges, flooding and risky waves to the coast, the briefing said.
The storm's intensity held at about 90 miles per hour (144 kph), and it appeared that the north side of the eye was the most risky place to be as Florence moved ashore.
Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that has since been downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a hotel in Wilmington several miles inland.
"Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated", said Fisher, 74. "If we lose the house, oh well, we can get housing. If I can't get back in a week, after awhile they might turn on each other or trash the place".
The police chief of a barrier island in Florence's bulls'-eye said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave.
"I don't care if this goes down to a Category 1", CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said on Thursday.