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Forecasters warn of "life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding".

But it still brought torrential rain.

As of 8am ET on Thursday, Florence was driving maximum sustained winds of 110mph (177km/h), according to an updated forecast from the National Hurricane Center.

But it's not only North Carolinians who live along the coast who are being impacted by severe flooding.

USA media said a fifth death may have occurred when a man tried to connect two extension cords in the rain.

Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and restoration could take weeks.

The company said as many as three-fourths of its 4 million customers in North Carolina and SC could lose power.

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Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.

Authorities in New Bern, a town of about 30,000 people that dates to the early 18th century, said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods and that the downtown area was underwater.

More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate before the streets became inundated.

Richmond, Va. -based Dominion Energy, which provides power in the northeastern corner of North Carolina, was reporting over 1,900 scattered outages.

There's still a threat from rising tides, Risty-Davis says.

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". The agency adds that people trapped by flooding should "never enter attics or crawl spaces".

No deaths have been reported in New Bern, but the situation caused by Hurricane Florence is dire, the mayor said. At the city's airport, the wind was gusting at 91 miles per hour.

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Emergency crews rescued hundreds of stranded people on Friday as Hurricane Florence pounded the US East Coast with driving rain, howling winds and risky storm surge. It's the most powerful storm of 2018 so far. The hurricane, which has been downgraded from a category four storm to a category two, is not expected to weaken any further before it hits the coast. NEW BERN OVERWHELMEDIn New Bern, North Carolina, the storm surge "overwhelmed" the town, located at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, Cooper said.

Parts of North and SC were forecast to get as much as one metre of rain. Isolated areas could see as much as 40 inches.

After creeping inland, Florence is expected to head west before looping up toward Tennessee and Kentucky early next week.

Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.

Officials urged residents there to take shelter at the highest points of their homes, including rooftops.

"This storm is relentless and excruciating", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told CNN late on Friday. Our main worry is water and flooding.

"WPD can confirm the first two fatalities of Hurricane #Florence in Wilmington".

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