NASA

Hurricane Florence could hit East Coast states hard

Millions of Americans have been preparing for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes

As mandatory evacuations begin for parts of three East Coast states, millions of Americans have been preparing for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades.

Hurricane Florence’s top winds dipped to 130 mph (215 kph) Tuesday morning, but it remains a Category 4 storm and is expected to approach the most-damaging Category 5 status as it slows strengthens over very warm ocean water off the coast of North and South Carolina.

The centre of the massive storm is then forecast to meander Thursday, Friday and Saturday over a stretch of coastline saturated by rising seas, inundating several states with rainfall and triggering life-threatening floods.

“Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!” President Donald Trump tweeted Monday evening.

South Carolina’s governor ordered the state’s entire coastline evacuated starting at noon Tuesday and predicted that 1 million people would flee as highways reverse directions. Virginia’s governor ordered a mandatory evacuation for some residents of low-lying coastal areas, while some coastal counties in North Carolina have done the same.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said his state is “in the bullseye” and urged people to “get ready now.”

RELATED: Hurricane Florence reaches Category 4, could strike U.S. southeast

The very centre of that bullseye may be Camp Lejeune, the sprawling Marine Corps training base. Tuesday’s 7-day rainfall forecast showed 20 inches or more falling there, part of a wide swath of rainfall that could total ten inches or more over much of Virginia and drench the nation’s capital. Some isolated areas could get 30 inches, forecasters said.

Florence could hit the Carolinas harder than any hurricane since Hazel packed 130 mph (209 kph) winds in 1954. That Category 4 storm destroyed 15,000 buildings and 19 people in North Carolina. In the six decades since then, many thousands of people have moved to the coast.

The storm’s first effects were already apparent on barrier islands as dangerous rip currents hit beaches and seawater flowed over a state highway — the harbinger of a storm surge that could wipe out dunes and submerge entire communities.

Watches were already in effect Tuesday for a storm surge that could reach up to 12 feet at high tide on a stretch from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout in North Carolina, forecasters said. A hurricane watch was in effect for Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Virginia’s southern border, and the first hurricane-force winds arriving late Thursday.

For many people, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl just off the coast, it could bring torrential rains all the way into the Appalachian mountains and as far away as West Virginia, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous conditions in places that don’t usually get much tropical weather.

“This is going to produce heavy rainfall, and it may not move very fast. The threat will be inland, so I’m afraid, based on my experience at FEMA, that the public is probably not as prepared as everybody would like,” said Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham also warned that Florence is expected to linger once onshore, downing trees, knocking out electricity and causing widespread flooding.

The storm’s potential path also includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in massive open-air lagoons.

Airlines, including American, Southwest, Delta and JetBlue, have begun letting affected passengers change travel plans without the usual fees.

A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and this area of the ocean is seeing temperatures peak near 85 degrees (30 Celsius), hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence’s hurricane-strength winds were expanding, reaching 40 miles (64 kilometres) from the eye of the storm.

“Unfortunately, the models were right. Florence has rapidly intensified into an extremely dangerous hurricane,” Blake wrote Monday evening, predicting that the hurricane’s top sustained winds would approach the 157 mph (253 kph) threshold for a wost-case Category 5 scenario. Tuesday morning’s forecast still supports this, the National Hurricane Center said.

By 8 a.m. Tuesday, Florence was centred about 950 miles (1,530 kilometres) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west-northwest at 15 mph (24 kph). Its centre will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday.

Two other storms were spinning in the Atlantic as the 2018 hurricane season reaches its peak. Isaac became a tropical storm again approaching the Caribbean, while Hurricane Helene was veering northward, no threat to land.

RELATED: B.C. woman shares experience of riding out Hawaii hurricane

In the Pacific, Olivia became a tropical storm again on a path to hit the Hawaiian islands early Wednesday.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said an estimated 1 million people would be fleeing his state’s coast, with eastbound lanes of Interstate 26 heading into Charleston and U.S. 501 heading into Myrtle Beach reversed to ease the exodus.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s evacuation order applies to about 245,000 people, including parts of the Hampton Roads area and Eastern Shore.

Liz Browning Fox was planning to ride out the storm nevertheless on the Outer Banks. She said her house, built in 2009 in Buxton, North Carolina, is on a ridge and built to withstand a hurricane. But even the most secure homes could be surrounded by water, or penetrated by wind-launched debris.

“You never know, there could be tree missiles coming from any direction,” she said. “There is no way to be completely safe.”

But, she added, she’s not sure whether going inland would be much safer: “I don’t know where to go from here.”

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Houston mill to re-open June 8

Ends lengthy shutdown which began in March

Fibre installation for South Hazelton begins

Citywest says it will install cable in the summer and home installations in the fall

Annual bird count thrills organizer

Count took place over 48 hours

B.C. government eyes antlerless moose harvest increase in bid to save caribou

Antlerless moose hunts reduce predation for threatened mountain caribou, says ministry

Major paving projects announced

Extends west of Smithers to east of Houston

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Williams Lake RCMP capture fugitive walking along Highway 97 in city limits

Witness said they could hear police yelling for suspect to ‘get down’

Kelowna Mountie on desk duty following ‘aggressive’ arrest

The officer involved in an arrest that took place on May 30 in Kelowna has been placed on administrative duties

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Protests shift to memorializing George Floyd amid push for change

‘There is something better on the other side of this,’ says Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom

Limit gun capacity to five bullets, victims group urges Trudeau government

Current limits are generally five bullets for hunting rifles and shotguns and 10 for handguns.

Vancouver Island’s current COVID-19 case count officially hits zero

Of the 130 recorded Island Health cases, five people have died, 125 recovered

Most Read