"These are folks who chose to stay and ride out the storm for whatever reason, despite having a mandatory evacuation", city public information officer Colleen Roberts said.
Forecasters have issued what they call a a flash flood emergency, saying areas of surrounding Carteret County are flooding that have never flooded before.
The Category 1 hurricane, with punishing winds and dumping 3 inches of rain an hour, made landfall at 7:15 a.m. ET near Wrightsville Beach, just east of Wilmington.
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
The Wilmington airport had a wind gust clocked at 105 miles per hour (169 kph), the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958.
After reaching a terrifying Category 4 peak of 140 mph earlier in the week, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m.at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington and not far from the SC line. The storm is expected to crawl into far southeastern North Carolina and eastern SC through Saturday, punishing the area over and over with rain and damaging winds.
The storm's intensity held at about 90 miles per hour (144 kph), and it appeared that the north side of the eye was the most risky place to be as Florence moved ashore.
At 9 a.m. the center of the hurricane was about 55 miles east of Myrtle Beach. Millions of people were expected to lose power from the storm and restoration could take weeks. Even before Florence officially made landfall, it had already caused more than 320,000 power outages reported in North Carolina and 4,400 more in SC. We knew it was coming, and we're working very hard to keep our citizens safe.
More than 415,000 homes and businesses were without power, mostly in North Carolina, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the nation's electrical grid.
Several dead, hundreds rescued as Florence pounds Carolinas
The hurricane center predicts as much as 101 centimeters (40 inches) of rain for some parts of North Carolina. New Bern is about 32 miles north of Morehead City, North Carolina, and 101 miles southeast of Raleigh.
Forecasters said Florence's surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet (3.4 meters) of ocean water.
Hundreds of people had to be rescued in New Bern, North Carolina, as they called for help overnight, city officials said. Days ahead of the storm, about 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were warned to evacuate before its outer bands reached the coast Thursday.
More than 100,000 of residents across the Cape Fear region are without power according to Duke Energy's outage map Friday morning. Surges of 10 feet had been reported early Friday Morehead City and elsewhere in North Carolina, the National Weather Service said.
The NHC said hurricane-force winds extended outward 80 miles from the center of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extended almost 195 miles out. He said parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges - the bulge of seawater pushed ashore by the hurricane - as high as 10 feet.
"This storm has been hovering over us for a while, and we expect it to continue to hover over us", she said.
This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence on the eastern coast of the United States.
"The rainfall is going to be the big impact for the area", Hawkins said.
Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and risky.
The National Hurricane Center downgraded it to a tropical storm on Friday afternoon, but warned it would dump as much as 30 to 40 inches of rain on the southeastern coast of North Carolina and into the northeastern coast of SC in spots.
Though Florence's shrieking winds diminished from hurricane force as it came ashore, forecasters said the sheer size of the 350-mile-wide storm and its painfully slow progress across North and SC in the coming days could leave much of the region under water.