The worst of the storm's fury had yet to reach coastal SC, where emergency managers said it was not too late for people to get out. Eventually, a volunteer rescue team from IN arrived with a boat and rescued them.
It's closing in: The eyewall is onshore in North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said.
"There's already water (in the) bottom part of people's houses", said Todd Willis, who lives in Kennel Beach, North Carolina, on Thursday night.
Some areas could receive as much as 40 inches (one meter) of rain, forecasters said.
The homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
"Heavy rains and high winds are likely to spread across North Carolina and linger for days", Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference. It was crawling west at 5 miles per hour with maximum sustained winds decreasing to 65 miles per hour.
Holly Waters, a retired special education teacher from Wilmington, said she was happy to have a place to go to relax before the storm worsened.
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 power failed. "We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees", said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor's appointment that was later canceled.
Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic.
For people living inland in the Carolinas, maximum peril could come days later as all that water drains, overflowing rivers and causing flash floods. In its 7 a.m. ET update, the National Hurricane Center said a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently recorded 6.1 feet above normal water levels.
Major Hurricane Florence Barreling Towards The Carolinas Amidst A Busy Tropical Atlantic
Many newcomers have moved to the coast in the almost 19 years since the last strong hurricane - Floyd - threatened the area. Florence's center is located roughly 750 miles southeast of the North Carolina, and SC border at the coast.
Colleen Roberts, public information officer for the city of about 30,000 residents, told Fox News that 200 people had been rescued so far as the Category 1 storm battered the area with strong winds and a life-threatening surge.
The worst of the storm's fury had yet to reach coastal SC, where emergency managers said people could still leave flood-prone areas.
More than 485,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and SC early on Friday, utility officials said.
Coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, and at least 510,000 homes and businesses were without power, almost all of them in North Carolina, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the nation's electrical grid. Forecasters warned of "catastrophic" freshwater flooding along the Carolinas.
About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.
Ken Graham, the NHC's director, warned the slow pace of the storm exacerbated its danger even to areas outside its immediate path.
Spanish moss waved in the trees as the winds picked up in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City. The flooding began on barrier islands in North Carolina and then spread into coastal and river communities there and in SC, swamping the white sands and golf courses in North Myrtle Beach.
Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia. The long-term forecast remains uncertain for Isaac as it continues to encounter unfavorable tropical conditions.
It remains a Category 1 hurricane with top sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), but a gust of 112 miles per hour (180 kph) was reported just offshore.