More than 370,000 people were without power in North Carolina early on Friday, state officials said.
As North Carolina residents began to feel the first modest effects of a weakened Hurricane Florence on Thursday, forecasters warned the powerful storm will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours.
"The worst of the storm is not yet here, but these are warning signs of the days to come", said Cooper in a news conference.
The governor maintained his declaration even as the storm appeared to follow a more southerly track than projections earlier in the week.
New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw told The Durham Herald-Sun around 5am that about 200 people had been rescued so far.
"We're helping out a lot of people today", says Craven County Emergency Services spokesperson Amber Parker.
President Donald Trump has said protecting lives is his "absolute highest priority" and that the White House is standing by to offer affected states whatever help they request.
Coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, and at least 510,000 homes and businesses were without power, almost all of them in North Carolina, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the nation's electrical grid.
Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but then reconsidered. The force of the wind has damaged the USA flag on the tower and is causing the ocean to churn.
Hurricane models are good at predicting the path of a storm, but they're not as good at predicting changes in intensity, said Dan Chavas, a professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University.
"What we're seeing. of course we have floods, storm surge, wind", Parker says. He added later, "Most of the fatalities in these tropical systems is water". The system is expected to bring its gusty winds, which extend some 140 miles from its center, and heavy rains to the Azores, according to the National Hurricane Center.
"Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated", said Fisher, 74.
It had sustained winds of 90 miles per hour and was moving in a northwest direction. These sustained winds will continue through much of the weekend. Hundreds of thousands of people have already evacuated. It is expected that the hurricane moves on or near the coastline during the night of Thursday through Friday.
Nearly 20,000 people had taken refuge in 157 emergency shelters, Mr Cooper said.
"I've never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked", he said.
After all that, what is left of Florence will turn north towards Rochester. She said she is anxious that if she evacuates, she'll get caught up in the massive flooding that's expected to affect the region.
"This area is not among the evacuation zones".
The Miami-based center had said earlier Friday Florence's arrival would come with "catastrophic" fresh water flooding over portions of the Carolinas. Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.