Roy Cooper warned residents to not let their guard down ahead of Hurricane Florence's landfall later this week.
About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than one million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.
Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU".
By mid-afternoon the winds had dropped to 75 miles per hour (120 kph) and the center was moving west at 6 miles per hour (10 kph), the NHC said, and parts of North and SC would get as much as 40 inches of rain (1 meter).
"And since we're already on high ground, those two things together kind of help insulate us a little more than, I would say, others", she said.
"The water kept rising and kept rising", he said.
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The No. 1 mission right now, Cooper said, is to save lives.
In New Bern, the picturesque riverfront town and birth place of Pepsi, where the Neuse and Trent rivers meet, incoming Mayor Sabrina Bengel said hundreds had been rescued after residents began calling before daybreak as waters rose to rooftops.
Florence's eyewall reached shore near Wilmington, N.C., just before 6 a.m. ET Friday; more than an hour later, the National Hurricane Center announced, it had "finally" made landfall near Wrightsville Beach.
Seventy people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel at the height of the storm, and many more who defied evacuation orders were hoping to be rescued.
New Hanover County officials said Thursday morning that it could accept more residents seeking shelter at Trask Middle School, Eaton Elementary School, Codington Elementary School, the Johnson Pre-K Center and Noble Middle School.
WHAT'S HAPPENING: Hurricane Florence looms over East Coast
Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it is unclear how many did. More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel and hundreds more were rescued elsewhere from rising water.
Tom Balance, owner of a seafood restaurant in New Bern, had decided against evacuating his home and was soon alarmed to see waves coming off the Neuse and the water getting higher and higher.
Still, she said, "I think we're going to stay put", noting her neighborhood's past success in avoiding power outages and flooding. At the city's airport, the wind was gusting at 91 miles per hour.
According to poweroutage.us, more than 500,000 customers in North Carolina and 50,000 in SC were without power on Friday morning, though the Weather Channel estimates up to 3 million customers could lose power in the Carolinas due to Florence. This is expected to cause "catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding".
Officials have warned that the life-threatening storm could come with maximum sustained wind speeds of 90mph and carries a risk of "catastrophic" flooding.
Heavy flooding is expected, with a storm surge up to 13ft (4 metres) in the area stretching from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
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