A mother and her infant were killed when a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, police said.
A woman died of a heart attack this morning in Hampstead, an unincorporated area of Pender County, North Carolina, officials said.
One man was rescued from the Mercer Avenue home, according to Wilmington Fire Department Chief Buddy Martinette.
Florence blew ashore early Friday in North Carolina with 90 miles per hour winds, buckling buildings, deluging entire communities and knocking out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses as it crawled inland and weakened into a still-lethal tropical storm.
The rising sea crept toward the two-story home of Tom Copeland, who lives on a spit of land surrounded by water in Swansboro.
What is a storm surge? Hurricane Florence brings 'catastrophic flood' warnings
More than 1,300 flights along the US East Coast were cancelled through Friday.
A wind gust at the Wilmington airport was clocked at 105 miles per hour (nearly 170 kph), the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958. A gust of 105 miles per hour (169 km/h) was recorded at Wilmington airport, surpassing the power of Hurricane Fran two decades ago. More than 500,000 homes and businesses are without electricity in North and SC.
Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com said Florence could dump a staggering 18 trillion gallons (68 trillion litres) of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. That amount will cause catastrophic flooding throughout the Wilmington region and shatter rainfall records, according to the weather service. "This will cause extremely risky flooding", the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned. "The infrastructure is going to break".
It was expected to begin pushing its way westward across SC later in the day, in a watery siege that could go on all weekend.
24 hour rainfall totals from Thursday to Friday ranged from about five inches in Wilmington to nearly 10 inches near Morehead City.
Hurricane Florence drenches barrier islands
People look out over the surf before Hurricane Florence comes ashore on Carolina Beach, North Carolina on September 13, 2018. The White House on Saturday said President Donald Trump had approved making federal funding available in some counties.
Numerous roads were closed Friday as the storm raged through and then stalled over Wilmington. At least 150 people were waiting to be saved, city officials said.
"The greatest storm surge inundation is expected between Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras, including the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers and western Pamlico Sound".
Hurricane Florence has caused some damage to Wilmington International Airport, said Gary Broughton, the airport's deputy director. In South Carolina, 155,000 customers are without power, officials said.
Mackie rode in a boat through a flooded neighbourhood, navigating through trees and past a fence post to get to the Knox house.
"It's moving very, very slowly", the weather service's Baker said of the hurricane. Just as light began to break, the power cut out, leaving the entire city of about 115,000 residents in a grey shroud.
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The hurricane also produced six tornadoes.
In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River left 500 people in peril. Surge-related flooding can vary greatly over short distances.
Tropical Storm Florence keeps drenching the central Carolinas, with an additional 10 to 15 inches of rain expected before it finally swings north over the Appalachian Mountains and into the Ohio Valley on Monday.
And it won't be a quick hit, as some rivers and waterways won't immediately overflow, Hawkins said.
"We won't be out of danger", he said. Charlotte will be at an "extreme" risk of flooding Saturday and Sunday, forecasters warn, as heavy bands of rain move in from the coast.
Everything you need to know about Hurricane Florence
In New Bern, rescue crews saved pulled hundreds of people from flooded homes and still needed to rescue dozens more on Saturday. In Wilmington, Solange Iliou Thompson closed down her restaurant, Indochine, because all of her employees had left the city.
"We know we're in for a long haul here", Cooper said of predictions that the storm will linger over the area.