Tens of thousands of homes were without power and sea water was sloshing through the streets as Hurricane Florence began lashing the US East Coast on Friday, bringing powerful winds along with warnings of "life - threatening" storm surge and rainfall.
The hurricane lost power, downgraded to a Category 1 storm, as it approached North and South Carolina, but officials warned it could still kill "a lot of people" amid the risk of "catastrophic" flooding, the US media reported.
Evacuation warnings were in place for more than a million people.
Roy Cooper, the Governor of North Carolina, where Florence was expected to make landfall later in the day, said surviving the storm would be a test of "endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience".
National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear said North Carolina was likely to see eight months of rain in two to three days.
Reports of collapsed roofs and other structures were already reported from North Carolina's Morehead City and New Bern areas, the Washington Post reported.
New Bern was particularly hard hit with reports of more than a hundred people stranded in their homes and in need of rescue.
A gauge in the city's Neuse River near the town of Oriental indicated the water was 4 feet over flood stage and more than 5 feet above normal levels.
More than 1, 300 flights along the US East Coast were cancelled through Friday.
According to meteorologist Ryan Maue, the tropical cyclone was expected to unload 10 trillion gallons of rainfall in North Carolina, enough to fill over 15 million Olympic - size swimming pools, CNN reported.
Conditions deteriorated on Thursday.
Some areas of North Carolina saw almost a foot of rain in just a few hours and footage showed sea levels beginning to surge on land.
More than a million people were ordered to leave the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia, with over 12, 000 taking refuge in emergency shelters.
But not everyone obeyed the warnings.
Cheryl Browning, who lives with her husband and son in North Carolina, said they chose to stay put despite the warnings as they also have three dogs and three parrots.
She said she "could not find anywhere to go" as the family cannot afford multiple hotel rooms.
"Either no (hotel) rooms are available, or we are denied because of the breed or size of dogs.
Many that will accept them only allow one per room.
And since we have three dogs and three parrots, they're requesting us to take two to six rooms. "
Several residents told CNN they were not evacuating because emergency shelters won't accept pets.