Catastrophic flooding from storm Florence spread across the Carolinas on Sunday, with roads to Wilmington cut off by the epic deluge and muddy river water swamping entire neighbourhoods miles inland.
"The risk to life is rising with the angry waters," said Gov. Roy Cooper.
The storm's death toll climbed to 15 when authorities said two people died from inhaling carbon monoxide from a generator in their home and a man who drowned when a pickup truck flipped into a drainage ditch in South Carolina.
With rivers rising towards record levels, thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate for fear the next few days could bring the most destructive round of flooding in North Carolina history.
More than 2ft of rain has already fallen in places, and forecasters are saying there could be an additional one-and-a-half feet by the end of the weekend.
"I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them, you are risking your life," governor Roy Cooper said.
As of 5pm local time, Florence was centred about 60 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inching west at 2mph — not even as fast as a person walking.
Its winds were down to 45 mph. With half of the storm still out over the Atlantic, Florence continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.
In its initial onslaught along the coast, Florence buckled buildings, deluged entire communities and knocked out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses.
But the storm was shaping up as a two-part disaster, with the second, delayed stage triggered by rainwater working its way into rivers and streams.
The flash flooding could devastate communities and endanger dams, roads and bridges.
Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of up to 7,500 people living within a mile of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Little River, about 100 miles from the coast.
The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, population 200,000.
Officials in nearby Harnett County urged residents of about 1,100 homes to clear out because the Lower Little River was rising towards record levels.
The dead included a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. South Carolina recorded its first death from the storm, with officials saying a 61-year-old woman was killed when her car hit a tree that had fallen across a highway.
Three died in one inland county, Duplin, because of water on roads and flash floods, the sheriff’s office said.
A husband and wife died in a house fire linked to the storm, officials said, and an 81-year-old man died after falling and hitting his head while packing to evacuate.