But the storm still carried "very unsafe winds", the Center added.
The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as sluggish and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a year ago.
The storm's intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to around 90 miles per hour (144 kph) by nightfall.
Myrtle Beach, a SC beach resort, was virtually deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic.
"I have no generator", said Petra Langston, a nurse.
After reaching a terrifying Category 4 peak of 140 mph earlier in the week, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m.at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington and not far from the SC line, coming ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.
"We are now still beyond the three day prediction envelope and the cone of uncertainty that we have of where the storm will go is enormous so I'm really hesitant to make any predictions about what it's going to be like here in Western North Carolina", says Young.
"Sometime Friday afternoon, Friday evening or Saturday morning", Goldstein said.
He said hurricane-force winds extend outward 80 miles from the center of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extend almost 200 miles out.
"We're a little anxious about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now", said Linda Smith, 67, a retired nonprofit director. We know it has forced the cancellation of almost 1,800 flights, with more to come, and that it has already caused serious flooding in coastal areas. Forecasters said "catastrophic" freshwater flooding was expected along waterways far from the coast of the Carolinas.
"We've seen fatalities and deaths from tropical storms, from Category 1 storms and from Category 2 storms", SCEMD's Becker said.
About 1.7 million residents across the states' coastlines are under mandatory evacuation orders, and tens of thousands of hospital patients and prison inmates have been moved out of Florence's path.
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With the heavy downpours and major winds of Florence starting tho hit on the Eastern Seaboard, residents along the coast of the Carolinas have been ordered to evacuate.
Georgia, where governor Nathan Deal has now declared an emergency, is also thought to be in the firing line.
Duke Energy, a power company in the Carolinas, estimated that one million to three million customers could lose electricity because of the storm and that it could take weeks to restore.
"We call them disasters because they break things", said FEMA's Long.
Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and Masters said Florence would still be an extremely unsafe storm for rain and storm surge.
It was unclear exactly how many people fled, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.
The catastrophe modeling firm said 250,000 homes in North Carolina alone are projected to be affected by the storm. Listen to local officials, and make sure you heed their advice.
Rain bands are already affecting the eastern part of North Carolina and SC, with rain increasing and waves growing. Also, a 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, and a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain, authorities said.
"If you're going to leave. you should leave now because time is running out", McMaster said.
"I built this house myself, so I'm not anxious at all, I know it's solid", he said.
"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU", the city tweeted around 2 a.m.
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