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.
"Know that the water is rising fast everywhere, even in places that don't typically flood", Cooper said.
Some towns have received more than two feet of rain from Florence, and forecasters warned that drenching rains totalling up to three-and-a-half feet of water could trigger epic flooding well inland through early next week. The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, population 200,000.
Life-threatening, catastrophic flash floods and prolonged significant river flooding are possible in portions of North Carolina, South Carolina and the southern to central Appalachias to western North Carolina to west-central Virginia and far-eastern West Virginia into early next week, the National Weather Service said. Florence "will produce catastrophic flooding over parts of North and SC for some time", NOAA official Steve Goldstein said Saturday morning.
Florence is projected to migrate at barely more than a walking pace across northern SC, passing close to the city of Florence - truly - on Saturday. Along with other home cleanup and fix work ministries, Frazier said his group works to "basically restore somebody back to where they were as much as we can".
In one piece of good news authorities said that 16 wild ponies of hurricane-struck Ocracoke Island, located off the North Carolina coast, were safe.
The Neuse is expected to crest at more than nine feet (3 meters) above flood stage Monday and Sheehan said the company expects the same ash basins are likely to be inundated again. It was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane before coming ashore near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina. Its winds were down to 40 miles per hour.
Mike Pollack searches for a drain in the yard of his flooded waterfront home a day after Hurricane Florence hit the area, on September 15, 2018 in Wilmington, North Carolina.
By Friday evening, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm, its winds weakening to 70 miles per hour (112 kph) as it pushed inland.
In New Bern, at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers in North Carolina, the storm surge overwhelmed the town of 30,000.
The US Marines, Coast Guard, civilian crews and volunteers used helicopters, boats and heavy-duty vehicles to rescue hundreds of people trapped by Florence's shoreline onslaught.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) downgraded it to a tropical storm on Friday, but warned it would dump as much as 30 to 40 inches (76-102 cm) of rain on the southeastern coast of North Carolina and part of northeastern SC.
More than 800,000 homes and businesses have lost power and Mr Cooper said the danger from flooding would linger for days.
Videosposted to social media show storm surges flooding into homes as they race inland. Electricity remained out for much of the city, known for its historic mansions, with power lines lying across roads like wet strands of spaghetti.
Near the Sutton Power Plant in Wilmington, coal ash leaked from a Duke Energy landfill. The gray ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including lead and arsenic.
A North Carolina city says about 70 people have been rescued from a hotel whose structural integrity is being threatened by Hurricane Florence.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves almost 30 feet (9 meters) high as Florence churned toward shore.
Thousands of the 20,000 people staying in more than 150 shelters this weekend and others waiting it out elsewhere won't be able to return to their homes for good any time soon.
A mother and a baby were the storm's first victims, who were killed Friday when a tree collapsed on their home in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The federal government's approval late Friday of a major disaster declaration in North Carolina means immediate funds can go to help with damage repairs and recovery for eight coastal counties, Cooper said.
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"The sun rose this morning on an extremely risky situation and it's going to get worse", he said at a news conference in Raleigh. More than 722,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Carolinas early on Friday, utility officials said.