Surge, Wind, Rain, Floods: Hurricane Florence Could Hit Hard
By Jonathan Drew
Raleigh, North Carolina -- Hurricane Florence churned Tuesday toward an Eastern Seaboard landfall as a million people were ordered to leave the coast and millions more prepared for what could be one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the region in decades.
This hurricane's size is ``staggering,'' National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned -- so wide that 12-foot seas are being pushed 300 miles ahead of its eye and entire states will be deluged for days.
``This one really scares me,'' Graham said. ``You're going to get heavy rain, catastrophic life-threatening storm surge, and also the winds.''
There was little change in Florence's track during the 11 a.m. forecast from the National Hurricane Center. Sustained winds were 130 mph (215 kph) Tuesday morning, but it remains a Category 4 storm and is expected to intensify to near Category 5 status as it slows over very warm coastal waters.
The storm is currently around 400 miles south of Bermuda and is moving at 16 mph (26 kph).
The centre of the massive storm is forecast to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday along a stretch of coastline already saturated by rising seas, and then meander for days, inundating several states and triggering life-threatening floods.
Seven-day rainfall totals are forecast to reach 10 to 20 inches over much of North Carolina and Virginia, and even 30 inches in some places. Combined with high tides, the storm surge could swell as high as 12 feet.
``The water could overtake some of these barrier islands and keep on going. With time, the wind pushes the water into every nook and cranny you can think of,'' Graham said. ``All you have to do is look up at your ceiling, and think about 12 feet (of water). That, folks, is extremely life-threatening.''
President Donald Trump declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina, facilitating federal help, and cancelled campaign events Thursday and Friday, citing the storm.
``Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!'' Trump tweeted, adding: ``WE are here for you.''
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said his state is ``in the bullseye'' and urged people to ``get ready now.''
The very centre of that bullseye may be Camp Lejeune, the sprawling Marine Corps training base, where authorities were opening emergency operation centres, staging equipment and urging families on the base to build survival kits with food and equipment needed to sustain themselves for 72 hours.
Mandatory coastal evacuations were in effect for civilians in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, but the military base posted on Facebook that different chains-of-command would decide whether to release non-essential personnel, and some relatives vented fears that they wouldn't be able to evacuate in time.
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 killed 19 people in North Carolina. In the six decades since then, many thousands of people have moved to the coast.
Ahead of Florence's arrival, barrier islands were already seeing dangerous rip currents and seawater flowed over a state highway _ the harbinger of a storm surge that could wipe out dunes and submerge entire communities.
Watches in effect Tuesday forecast a storm surge of up to 12 feet at high tide from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout in North Carolina. A hurricane watch was in effect for Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Virginia's southern border, with 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, 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 have already experienced lots of rain recently.
``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.
Florence's projected path 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. Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said operators would begin shutting down nuclear plants at least two hours before hurricane-force winds arrive.
All signs pointed to a stronger, slower, wider and wetter hurricane in the days ahead, forecasters said.
A warm ocean gives hurricanes their fuel, and Florence is moving over an area with water temperatures nearing 85 degrees (30 Celsius), hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. With little wind shear to pull the storm apart, hurricane-strength winds have been expanding to 40 miles (64 kilometres) from the eye of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds 150 miles from the centre. Information gathered Tuesday by a hurricane-hunting aircraft suggests it will intensify again as it nears the coast, approaching the 157 mph (253 kph) threshold for a worst-case Category 5 scenario.
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.
In the Pacific, Olivia became a tropical storm again, on a path to hit the Hawaiian islands early Wednesday.
Airlines, including American, Southwest, Delta and JetBlue, have begun letting affected passengers change travel plans without the usual fees.
Liz Browning Fox was planning to ride out the storm on the Outer Banks, defying evacuation orders. She said it was built in 2009 in Buxton, North Carolina, up on a ridge, and made 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 going inland might not be much safer. ``I don't know where to go from here,'' she said.
Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington; Jennifer Kay in Miami; Jeffrey Collins and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, Jeff Martin in Atlanta and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida, contributed to this report.
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Preparations Underway as Florence Heads Toward the Carolinas
As Hurricane Florence's threat to the Carolinas and Virginia became clearer, authorities and residents ramped up storm preparations Monday – including the first mandatory evacuations.
Along North Carolina's Outer Banks, all residents and visitors on Hatteras Island were ordered to evacuate starting at noon Monday, according to Dare County Emergency Management. South of Hatteras Island, all visitors on Ocracoke Island were ordered to evacuate starting at noon Monday, Hyde County officials announced.
Other evacuations along the Outer Banks will go into effect on Tuesday, and to the south, Brunswick County, North Carolina, residents who live in flood-prone areas will be required to evacuate starting Tuesday morning.
"I highly encourage people to move out of the county," Brunswick County Emergency Management Director Brian Watts told reporters. "The best thing to do is to get out of the county."
(MORE: Florence Could Pose a Serious Danger to U.S. East Coast)
Many residents in the Carolinas and Virginia seemed to be taking the warning seriously. Customers descended in droves on supermarkets and home improvement stores to stock up on supplies for the hurricane.
Ryan Deeck, grocery department manager at the Walmart off Seaboard Street in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, told the Sun News, "Literally, they are filling buggies full of water, shopping carts full of water. They’re coming in and buying water and plates and that’s about all they’re buying. They’re buying six and seven of everything."
Gretchen Sankovich, an operations manager at Home Depot in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, said, "We’re out of generators, out of gas cans, almost out of water. Plywood and particle board are flying off the shelves."
Many others posted photos on social media of shelves that had been emptied of bottled water and bread.
The governors of North and South Carolina and Virginia have declared states of emergency to free up resources to prepare for, and respond to, the impacts of Florence. President Donald Trump will not make a scheduled campaign trip to Mississippi on Friday and will instead monitor the storm, according to Bloomberg. North Carolina – Locate Evacuation Route
In a Monday morning press briefing, Gov. Roy Cooper said some 200 National Guard members have been activated, with many more available, and a formal request for a disaster declaration from Trump had been filed.
"The best safety plan is preparation and common sense," said Cooper. "We still have a couple of days to get ready, so let’s use that time."
Starting Monday, students on the campus of UNC Wilmington were under a voluntary evacuation, and all classes will be canceled from noon on, according to the State. Eastern Carolina University said all classes for the rest of the week will be canceled starting at noon Tuesday.
"There’s going to be a lot of water where we don’t want it," NWS-Wilmington meteorologist Steve Pfaff told the News and Observer.
(MORE: 11 Emergency Hurricane Supplies You Can't Forget)
The North Carolina Division of Transportation’s Ferry Division announced that ferries from Hatteras and Ocracoke islands were canceled on Sunday “due to preparation for possible severe weather.”
NWS Wilmington officials said there were more than a dozen rip current rescues in Wrightsville Beach on Saturday.
North Carolina Emergency Management experts worked to determine where to place resources ahead of the storm.
Department of Transportation employees were preparing hurricane response equipment, such as bulldozers, motor graders and chainsaws and topping off fuel sites, according to a news release. They were also contacting local contractors and equipment providers to make sure resources are available to assist if needed.
Cooper said emergency management officials were working with local and federal officials to prepare for "possible impacts."
"We are entering the peak of hurricane season, and we know well the unpredictability and power of these storms," Cooper said.
Along the coast, Camp Lejeune said in a statement obtained by the AP that preparations are underway and special shelters will be opened on the base if needed. Northwest of Fayetteville, Fort Bragg is serving as a staging area for emergency supplies that'll be needed in the aftermath of the storm, the Fayetteville Observer reported.
In the western North Carolina town of Tryon, some 400,000 people are expected to attend the World Equestrian Games starting Tuesday, according to the Asheville Citizen Times. The event runs for nearly two weeks, and no plans have been announced yet to alter the schedule because of the hurricane. South Carolina – Locate Evacuation Zone
As residents went out to purchase supplies, Gov. Henry McMaster announced, "A hurricane is coming our way. Pretend, assume, presume that a major hurricane is going to hit South Carolina. Be prepared. Be ready."
"Whatever happens, we’re going to have a lot of rain and a lot of wind, even if the hurricane goes farther north," McMaster added.
McMaster has asked Trump for a federal emergency declaration in anticipation of the possible impacts of Florence, the Charleston Post and Courier reported. The governor is requesting the availability of federal resources should the storm make landfall in South Carolina.
The governor said he doesn't know when evacuation orders might be ordered this week because the storm’s models are still developing.
FEMA officials will be heading to South Carolina on Monday, state leaders announced. Key local and state agencies have been notified to be ready to respond if the need arises, a press release noted.
In Myrtle Beach, a $34 million beach renourishment project has been paused until the storm passes, according to WBTW.com.
Coastal Carolina University will hold classes Monday but will cancel classes and might ask students to evacuate Tuesday and beyond, the State also reported. Virginia – Locate Evacuation Zone
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency Saturday, allowing the Commonwealth to "mobilize resources, including the Virginia National Guard, and pre-position people and equipment to assist in storm response and recovery efforts," according to a press release.
“While the impacts of Tropical Storm Florence to Virginia are still uncertain, forecasts increasingly expect the storm to strengthen into a major hurricane that could seriously affect the East Coast and Virginians,” said Governor Northam. “Accordingly, I am declaring a state of emergency so that we can begin to prepare state assets, and I encourage Virginians to monitor forecasts and make their own preparations now.”
According to the press release, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), the Virginia National Guard, the Virginia State Police, and other state agencies have already begun preparations for the potential impacts of Tropical Storm Florence.
Virginia Beach officials also began to release water from local lakes to make room for the expected heavy rainfall, local media reported Monday.
On Monday, some 30 Navy ships in the Hampton Roads area will head out to sea and away from the hurricane, the U.S. Fleet Forces announced.
“The decision to sortie the ships from Hampton Roads is based on Hurricane Florence’s current track, which indicates the hurricane has the potential to bring sustained winds in excess of 50 knots and storm surge in excess of 8 feet to the area, which meets the criteria for getting the fleet underway to avoid storm damage,” said USFF Commander Adm. Christopher Grady in a press release. “Our ships can better weather storms of this magnitude when they are underway.”
Florence Becomes a Hurricane, Takes Aim at US Southeast
By Pamela Sampson
Atlanta _ Tropical Storm Florence turned into a hurricane Sunday morning and swirled toward the U.S. for what forecasters said could be a direct hit on the Southeast toward the end of the week.
The storm's sustained winds reached 75 mph (121 kph), just over the threshold for a hurricane, as it made its way across the Atlantic, about 750 miles (1,210 kilometres) southeast of Bermuda, the National Hurricane Center said. It was moving west at 6 mph.
The Miami-based centre said that it was still too early to predict the hurricane's exact path but that a huge coastal area from South Carolina to the mid-Atlantic region should prepare for a major strike late in the week.
``All indications are that Florence will be an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane while it moves over the western Atlantic toward the southeastern United States,'' the hurricane centre said. A Category 4 storm packs winds of 130 mph (209 kph) or more and has the potential for catastrophic damage.
The governors of North and South Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency to give them time to prepare, and the Navy said ships in Virginia's Hampton Roads area would leave port for their own safety.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement Sunday that coastal and inland residents alike need to get ready for potentially heavy rainfall and flooding from the storm. Cooper urged residents to ``review your emergency plans and gather your supplies now.''
The South Carolina Emergency Management Division tweeted Sunday that officials there are ``preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster.''
The storm brings with it an increasing risk of two life-threatening impacts: storm surge along the coast and freshwater flooding from prolonged rains, the hurricane centre said.
Dangerous swells generated by Florence affected Bermuda and have begun to reach parts of the Eastern Seaboard.
The National Weather Center warned of dangerous rip currents in popular tourist areas like Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks. Advisories warning of dangerous beach conditions or coastal flooding were in effect for parts of New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.