Relief will not come quickly. The rivers are in most cases several days from cresting.
There is really nowhere for the water to go.
Resident Jay Manning said he and his wife watched with alarm as water filled the street. "We all know that".
NBC News is reporting five deaths as a result of the storm.
In North Carolina, services and flights have been suspended at Wilmington International Airport. "And then we will shift into putting our communities back together".
"If you could get to a second level somewhere, you might - you might have a chance to be able survive this level of storm surge flooding".
Dozens have already been rescued in New Bern. But thousands of buildings were damaged in the destruction that Roberts called "heart-wrenching".
Sixty-seven-year-old Sadie Marie Holt was among those rescued Friday. "We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees", said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor's appointment that was later canceled.
Besides federal and state emergency crews, rescuers were being helped by volunteers from the "Cajun Navy" who also turned up in Houston during Hurricane Harvey to carry out water rescues. We got thrown into mailboxes.
According to the NHC's discussion, "The hurricane is turning westward as it continues a slow forward motion ..." Footage posted on social media showed a meteorologist saying on air that they had to evacuate.
In Wilmington, a city of about 120,000 people on North Carolina's Atlantic coastline along the Cape Fear River that is home to historic mansions and even a decommissioned World War Two-era battleship, streets were strewn with downed tree limbs and carpeted with leaves and other debris.
Santee Cooper said Friday morning that Florence had knocked out two transmission lines in northern Horry County.
In Kinston, more than an hour's drive inland from the coast, Lenoir County spokesman Bryan Hanks said a man was electrocuted as he attempted to connect extension cords outside in the rain.
The fifth death, indirectly linked to the storm, occurred in Pender County's Hampstead community, Pender County Emergency Management Director Tom Collins said. "Be extremely careful and stay alert".
Power outages mounted until almost 700,000 customers were in the dark in North Carolina alone. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and restoration could take weeks.
Roy Cooper, North Carolina Governor, said on Friday: "This storm is relentless and excruciating".
Usually hurricanes this far north deliver their punch and quickly leave town.
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
The coast has been battered, and the mountains appear to be next.
Florence is expected to dump some 20 inches of rain on Myrtle Beach, SC, and is churning storm surges of 10 feet.
The storm's center is expected to pass the Midlands - still under a tropical storm warning - sometime late Saturday.
Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather with his dog Canelo. Florence could add another six to 10 inches of rainfall this weekend. The rainfall will produce life-threatening flash flooding.
"You evacuate from water", Cline said.
"What we want to try to do is to minimize the time that people spend in their shelters that they're in right now", Sprayberry said.
Some towns have already seen 60cm of rain in two days, with totals forecast to top 1m in places.