A mother and infant were killed when a tree fell on their house.
As it stands, Florence is now a Category two hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 177 km/h.
The monster storm felled trees all around Wilmington, causing many more close calls and damaging homes and cars. "Its a big one", he said at the White House.
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.
"Stay in place. People are still being rescued in coastal North Carolina".
The result could be what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farms and industrial sites.
The massive storm is larger than North Carolina and South Carolina - combined, according to South Carolina Emergency Management. Hurricane force winds were being felt in an 80-mile radius from the center of the storm.
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.
The National Hurricane Center says the greatest storm surge inundation will probably be between Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras in North Carolina.
In the latest advisory the National Hurricane Center said: "The centre of Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC later tonight, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and northeastern SC in the hurricane warning area on Friday".
It's unclear exactly how many people fled ahead of the storm, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.
Florence could be costliest storm ever to hit the US
That same block of counties is also facing an elevated tornado threat, according to the National Hurricane Center. The winds cover an area more than 53,000 square miles - which is larger than the entire state of North Carolina .
The North Carolina Department of Transportation tweeted a photo of highway NC 12, showing sand had covered one lane by 7:30 a.m Thursday.
At 8 p.m. Friday, Florence was centered about 15 miles (25 kilometers) north-northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and about 55 miles (90 kilometers) east-southeast of Florence, South Carolina.
Rain is forecast to continue through the weekend, bringing risky flooding conditions to many areas of North Carolina.
The New Hanover County Sheriff's Office announced Friday it had dispatched several teams to help clear debris from the roads.
Florence is anticipated to move slowly over eastern South Carolina Friday night through Saturday night. "(It's) a unsafe situation here", Cooper said. Shortly afterward, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts to 105 miles per hour at Wilmington International Airport, the highest wind gust measured in Wilmington since Hurricane Helene hit the port city in 1958.
In the days other news, Puerto Rico had new power outages today, as remnants of another tropical storm passed south of the US territory.
But North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent".
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 160 km/h, but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage.
The Governor's Office has activated the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund, which has been used in previous disasters, to accept donations to support North Carolina's response to Hurricane Florence.
Roslyn Fleming, 56, said her granddaughter was baptized in the inlet near where she lives in the coastal community of Sea Breeze and on Thursday morning she used her iPad to make a video of the scene.