More than 974,000 without power as Florence lumbers inland

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Tropical storm Florence lumbered inland on Saturday, knocking down trees, flooding rivers, and dumping sheets of rain in the Carolinas where five people have died.

"Do not let your guard down with the changing #Florence forecast".

The outer reaches of Hurricane Florence began lashing coastal North Carolina with heavy winds and flooded roads on Thursday ahead of an expected landfall that will bring walls of water and lingering downpours.

Winds were already picking up along the coastline on Thursday morning and Myrtle Beach was virtually deserted with empty streets, boarded up storefronts and very little traffic.

"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth", he said.

The storm's center was about 145 miles (230 km) east of Wilmington, North Carolina, at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) but tropical storm-strength winds and heavy rains already were hitting North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands.

"Sometime Friday afternoon, Friday evening or Saturday morning", Goldstein said. The storm surge could reach up to more than a story high, or 13 feet, if the maximum surge coincides with high tide.

Tropical Storm Florence is slowly weakening over eastern SC but is causing catastrophic flooding in North and SC, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Saturday.

In Belhaven, an enclave in far eastern North Carolina, the Pungo River nearly reached the second floor of buildings as the storm moved in, according to video posted on the website of The News & Observer.

"This is a very unsafe storm", said FEMA's Long, urging people still in evacuation zones to heed orders to flee to safer ground.

"If you're going to leave - and you should leave - if you have not left these evacuation zones, you should leave now because time is running out", McMaster said.

"It was a happy moment: People coming into a locally owned business and helping us all out", she said.

Forecasters said conditions will only get more lethal as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly inland.

SC ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents while North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination. The state has been sharing this information with local officials to help them determine when and where to order evacuations.

Meteorologist Ryan Maue of calculated that Florence could dump a staggering 18 trillion gallons (68 trillion litres) of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. Millions of people are expected to lose power and it could take weeks to resolve the outages.

Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in charge of disaster response, has come under investigation over his use of government vehicles.

In North Carolina's Onslow County, first responders have made 20 home rescues, though another 200 to 300 people still need to be saved.

McMaster warned that once tropical storm-force winds begin moving in, rescuers will not be able to assist people because the rescuers themselves will be moving to safety.

Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the storm with his dog Canelo.

Approximately 7,000 people fleeing the storm have taken shelter at 108 shelters open across the state. "I'm not leaving him here".

"Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated", said Fisher, 74. "We're ready and God will watch over us".