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.

Just Posted

Budget 2019: Here’s how the City of Terrace is spending your money

City moves step closer to finalizing budget with new projects, increases

Gas prices spike in northern B.C. ahead of the long weekend

Fuel went up 17 cents overnight in Prince Rupert

No one hurt in house fire in Terrace

Neighbours say they smelled smoke coming from basement unit

Terrace RCMP locate body of missing man in Thornhill

Death is not considered suspicious

Terrace’s annual Kids Day in the Park may not happen this year

Royal Purple Elks don’t have enough members to run event

UPDATE: Four victims identified in deadly Penticton shooting spree

John Brittain, 68, faces three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder

BC Ferries to pilot selling beer and wine on select sailings

Drinks from select B.C. breweries and VQA wineries will be available on the Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen route

Elizabeth May’s B.C. wedding will be a ‘low carbon affair’ on Earth Day

Green party leader’s wedding party to depart in a cavalcade of electric cars

4 victims killed in Penticton shooting spree remembered at vigil

John Brittain, 68, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder

B.C. awaits Kenney’s ‘turn off taps,’ threat; Quebec rejects Alberta pipelines

B.C. Premier John Horgan said he spoke with Kenney Wednesday and the tone was cordial

Federal government extends deadline to make Trans Mountain decision to June 18

The National Energy Board endorsed an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline on Feb. 22

Prince George sweeps to first-ever BC Hockey League crown

Spruce Kings beat Vernon Vipers 3-1 in the Okanagan Wednesday for 13th straight playoff win

Hwang’s first MLS goal lifts Whitecaps to 1-0 win over LAFC

Vancouver picks up first victory of season

Verdict scheduled in Giesbrecht murder trial

B.C. Supreme Court justice will render his decision May 24

Most Read