The Weather Channel Goes All In With Apocalyptic Hurricane Florence Graphics

Beachgoers watch the surf at North Myrtle Beach South Carolina

Beachgoers watch the surf at North Myrtle Beach South Carolina

Given the storm's size and slow speed, officials warned that Florence could cause similar large-scale flood damage to that seen in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago.

U.S. Southeast power companies said almost 440,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina and SC were without power on Friday as Hurricane Florence hit the coast.

Gov. Roy Cooper of the Tar Heel state announced a State of Emergency ahead of the storm making its way to the coast. Ocean water flowed between homes and on to streets on the Outer Banks; waves crashed against wooden fishing piers.

And about 46 miles (74 kilometres) farther up the waterfront, in New Bern, about 150 people were waiting to be rescued from floods on the Neuse River, WXII-TV reported.

"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", New Bern city officials said on Twitter.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths.

It was expected to drop eight months worth of rain in just a few days on North Carolina as residents prepared for a deluge some were calling "the great soak".

More than 440,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and SC early on Friday, utility officials said. Duke Energy, a local power company, estimated that up to three million customers could lose their supply as a result of Florence.

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The center downgraded Florence to a Category 1 hurricane, but warned that it still carried "very risky winds".

By early afternoon, Florence's winds had weakened to 75 miles per hour, just barely a hurricane and well below the storm's terrifying Category 4 peak of 140 miles per hour earlier in the week.

Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com said Florence could dump a staggering 18 trillion gallons of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland.

It was expected to begin pushing its way westward across SC later in the day, in a watery siege that could go on all weekend.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Nearly 20,000 people had taken refuge in 157 emergency shelters, Cooper said. States of emergency have already been declared in both North and SC.

"I had a lot of fear initially but I'm glad to be inside and safe", said Zelda Allen, 74, a retired tax accountant from Hampstead, North Carolina, who was riding out the storm at Wilmington's Hotel Ballast with her husband. Her calls for help went unanswered after large trees blocked roads to her home said a police spokeswoman.

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