At least one person was killed when one of the storm's twisters hit a mobile home park in North Carolina.
Roads flooded in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, and thousands were without power even before the the storm made landfall.
Weakened to a Category 1 hurricane, the powerful storm lashed communities with wind, rain and floodwaters.
More than 1 million people were warned to leave in the Carolinas, and a round of evacuations was ordered in coast Virginia as the storm drew closer.
Florida residents are bracing for the Category 4 storm to hit them next.
"How did you get in there? How do you plan on getting out? Are you insane?" one commenter responded.
The 185 mph winds ripped off roofs, overturning cars and tore down power lines.
The National Hurricane Center said the risk of strong winds and rising water will increase along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts.
The storm is expected to strengthen to a Category 4 this weekend.
The slow-moving storm could bring up to 25 inches of rain to some parts of the South, and it may become a hurricane as early as Friday.