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

Influx of cross-border visitors to Peace Arch Park sparks concern COVID-19 could spike

Police, parks officials say patrols, education and signage have all been increased

North Delta crime beat, week of May 17

A selection of property crimes submitted weekly by the Delta Police Department

COLUMN: For real leadership amid crisis, look west of Scott Road

Delta council, under direction of Mayor George Harvie, defines leadership during pandemic

UPDATE: Funding announced for pair of North Delta salmon conservation projects

Grants for Cougar Creek-related works by Burns Bog Conservation Society, Cougar Creek Streamkeepers

Delta playgrounds, basketball hoops, reopening June 1

Skate and bike parks in the city were reopened last week

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

Feds looking at ways to reunite families amid COVID-19 border restrictions with U.S.

Some families with members of dual-citizenship have become separated due to the pandemic

Condition in kids with possible COVID-19 link being studied in Canada

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to doctors about MIS-C

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Importance of accurate, ethical reporting more critical than ever

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Trudeau acknowledges racial unrest in U.S.; ‘We also have work to do in Canada’

‘Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,’ Trudeau says

State of Local Emergency declared for Boundary as communities brace for river flooding

Warm weather and heavy rain could cause sections of Kettle River system to swell beyond 2018 levels

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Most Read