"I about jumped out of my skin", he said in a phone interview Friday morning.
But the hurricane had slowed to a crawl as it traced the North Carolina-South Carolina shoreline, drenching coastal communities for hours on end.
The huge levels of rainfall are a result of the storm surge created by the risky tropical weather, which has claimed the lives of 11 people. Similarly, U.S. 501 would be the only way into Myrtle Beach.
Just after midnight, the station tweeted that everyone had safely evacuated.
The hurricane was also deadly, killing five people.
A downed tree and water from the Neuse river are seen on a flooded street during the passing of Hurricane Florence in the town of New Bern, North Carolina, on September 14, 2018. Gusts reached over 100 miles per hour - the highest recorded in North Carolina since 1958. Flooding also hit the Bogue Sound near Beaufort, the Pungo River at Belhaven and the Pamlico River at Washington. More than 26,000 hunkered down in shelters. The page says service animals aren't barred from evacuation shelters, beaches shouldn't be used for sand bags, and evacuation orders aren't enforced by FEMA. "I think our gages and sensors are telling some things, so hopefully we'll get ahead of it and stay ahead of it".
Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
Saffo said it could be longer than two weeks before power is fully restored.
The riverfront city of 30,000 people has been deluged by 304cm of water, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported.
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More than 300,000 without power as Hurricane Florence batters North Carolina
Fox Business Network correspondent Jeff Flock reported live from the eye of Hurricane Florence in Carolina Beach, North Carolina. Authorities in New Bern said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods and that the downtown area was underwater.
More than 800,000 homes and businesses have lost power and Mr Cooper said the danger from flooding would linger for days.
"If we are ever going to have a Category 6 (a speculated-on level that's above current measurement tools), the western Pacific is where it's going to be", said meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com.
"As soon as the storm passes and it's safe to do so, our plant crews will perform inspections to assess damage and understand any site maintenance needs", she said in a statement. Areas from Wilmington through Fayetteville to Charlotte will experience 500-year to 1,000-year flood events, he said.
Perry says his department has been in contact with power companies and gas pipeline operators.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up a "rumor control" website to quash false information in Florence's wake. The storm knocked out power to almost 930,000 homes and businesses, and the number could keep rising.
Straddling the famous Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is also bedeviled by volcanoes and earthquakes, and while there are considerable patches of poverty in North and SC, it is not the same as the rural area where Mangkhut hit.
"This storm is relentless and excruciating", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told CNN late on Friday. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall.
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.
It has trapped people in flooded homes, with citizen swift-water rescue teams from out of state joining local emergency professionals to try to bring them to safety. Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did. Dozens more were pulled from a collapsed hotel.