"We've had people in attics, on top of roofs", she said.
Forecasters said conditions will continue to deteriorate as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.
Wind gusts of up to 100 miles per hour were reported at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, the hurricane center said.
It is expected to move across parts of south-eastern North Carolina and eastern SC on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said.
In Hampton Roads, a tropical storm warning is in effect from Poquoson to the Virginia-North Carolina border, including the lower James and York rivers.
On the mainland in New Bern, authorities said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods and that the downtown area was underwater.
Forecasters say although Florence is now a tropical storm, it will continue to threaten North and SC with powerful winds and catastrophic freshwater flooding.
Hurricane Florence, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, hammered Wilmington, NC on Friday.
Duke Energy Corp, the biggest utility in the area with over 4 million customers, estimated the storm could cause between 1 million and 3 million outages.
Hurricane Florence swamps Carolinas, threatening record rainfall, punishing winds
More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm began buffeting the coast, and more than 12,000 were in shelters. Florence weakens to a tropical storm by Sunday and a depression as it slowly drifts northwest into the Appalachians on Monday .
North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centers in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities. New Bern is about 32 miles north of Morehead City, North Carolina, and 101 miles southeast of Raleigh.
Keith Acre of North Carolina's Department of Emergency Management said: "This has been a really large evacuation and sheltering operation, probably the largest we've done, so that has not been an east lift". Significant weakening is expected over the weekend.
"We have the situation that has developed here at the station, and that is that the water [is] getting [so] close to the building that the building has been evacuated", Cox said in a video posted to Twitter Thursday night.
For people living inland in the Carolinas, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with almost 4 inches (10 centimeters) of water, he calculated. Nationwide, airlines cancelled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.
Both deaths were reported to the State Medical Examiner's Office by the Lenoir County Sheriff's Office. The large size of the tree made it hard, Wilmington Fire Department Chief Jon Mason said during a Friday afternoon press conference.
Sheets of rain splattered against windows of a hotel before daybreak in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the electricity went out. Local media said she had suffered a heart attack.
More than 12,000 people were in shelters in North Carolina and 400 in Virginia, where the forecast was less dire.
More than 700,000 people were left without power and millions more were warned by the governor of North Carolina that they were facing "an extremely unsafe situation".