The powerful storm that has already left at least 14 people dead and about 1 million without power on the East Coast continued to move inland at an ominously sluggish pace Saturday, fat with rain and threatening to deliver hardship and devastation far beyond the wind-battered coasts.
At 5 AM this morning, Florence was just between Columbia, South Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia, and making the turn north.
Flash flooding killed three people in Duplin County, North Carolina, the sheriff's office there said.
A mother and infant were killed in Wilmington, NC, when a tree fell on their house, WECT reported.
A day after Florence blew ashore in North Carolina with 90 miles per hour (145 kph) winds, Coast Guard officials reported using helicopters to lift scores of people from rooftops and swamped cars near the shoreline, and rescue crews used inflatable boats to reach others trapped in their submerged homes.
On Saturday some residents tried to return home, driving through flooded highways and armed with chainsaws to clear fallen pine trees that covered the road.
Cooper warned against such behavior as roads become increasingly risky.
TROGDON: And the one thing I want to prevent is thousands of people stranded on our interstates or USA routes with flooding events on each side, putting more burden on our first responders to be extracting thousands of people that use our roadways daily. This system is unloading epic amounts of rainfall: "in some places, measured in feet, not inches".
In North Carolina, some areas have already seen a record 30 inches of rain from Florence - now a tropical depression - and the rain keeps falling.
Hoffman, North Carolina, has seen 19.96 inches and Conway, South Carolina, has seen 8.68 inches - with two days of rainfall to come.
"Right now we've rescued over 400 people". "We can pump 42,000 gallons (159,000 liters) a minute once we have water receded enough".
"The fact that there haven't been more deaths and damage is awesome and a blessing", said Rebekah Roth, walking around Wilmington's Winoca Terrace neighborhood.
In one piece of good news, authorities said 16 wild ponies on hurricane-struck Ocracoke Island, located off the North Carolina coast, were safe. SC recorded its first death from the storm, with officials saying a 61-year-old woman was killed when her auto hit a tree that had fallen across a highway.
The Horry County Coroner's Office in SC confirmed that Debra Collins Rion, 61, and Mark Carter King, 63, died Friday night from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator, the Mrytle Beach Sun News reported.
There is a mandatory evacuation order for the area, officials said. When emergency responders tried to reach her, their path was blocked by fallen trees. She called damage to thousands of buildings "heart-wrenching".
"That's terrific. Nothing sells flood insurance like a storm", said Robert Hunter, who ran the National Flood Insurance Program in the 1970s.
There were more than 800,000 people without power in North and SC combined Saturday.
Florence's top sustained winds have weakened to 50mph (80km/h) but it is projected to bring further catastrophic flash flooding.
The military announced Saturday it was deploying almost 200 soldiers to assist in storm-related response and recovery efforts, along with 100 trucks and equipment.
Around 9,700 National Guard soldiers and civilians have been deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats to help stranded people.
A Category 1 hurricane when it plowed ashore near Wilmington early Friday, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm hours later, and the damage of the first blow along the coast was not as bad as many had feared.
Two Upper Cumberland Electric construction crews were sent to North Carolina to help with the expected electrical damage from the hurricane.
Southern and central North Carolina into far northeast SC could see an additional 10 to 15 inches of rainfall, with "storm totals between 30 and 40 inches along the North Carolina coastal areas south of Cape Hatteras".