The center of Hurricane Florence has smashed into North Carolina with a storm surge of up to 10 feet that has pushed miles inland and screaming winds of 90 mph.
More than 60 people including children had to be pulled from a collapsing motel in Jacksonville at the height of the storm and many more who defied evacuation orders were waiting to be rescued.
Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at 7.15am with winds of up to 90 mph. At least 12,000 people sought refuge in shelters in the state and more than 415,000 homes and businesses were reported to be without power as the outer band of the storm approached.
The hurricane knocked a basketball-sized hole in the wall of the Triangle Motor Inn causing cinder blocks to crumble and the roof to fall down - while residents were still in their rooms.
Police and fire crews had to force their way into rooms to rescue guests who were all taken to a shelter. None were injured.
Rescue teams were also working to free around 150 people trapped in New Bern as city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts warned that the storm surge will increase further as Florence passes over the area.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the Neuse River near the city is more than 10 feet (3.05 meters) high after it burst its banks on Thursday night.
The city warned that people 'may need to move up to the second story' but told them to stay put as 'we are coming to get you.'
Even before Florence hit land, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported 'life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds' along the coast of the Carolinas leaving coastal streets inundated with ocean water.