Powerful Hurricane Florence was tracking towards the US East Coast Tuesday, prompting authorities to order upwards of one million people to evacuate the path of the extremely dangerous storm forecasters said could soon intensify.
Residents scrambled to flee en masse as the menacing Category 4 storm packing winds of 220 kilometers per hour bore down on the East Coast of the United States.
“This is one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast in many years,” President Donald Trump warned on Twitter. “Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!”
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered as many as one million residents of the state’s eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the storm’s possible arrival on Thursday. Schools in 26 of the state’s 46 counties were to close from Tuesday.
The governor of neighboring North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination, and parts of coastal Dare County, while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia.
“This is a very dangerous hurricane,” McMaster said, adding that the evacuation order for coastal counties was “mandatory, not voluntary.”
“We do not want to risk one South Carolina life in this hurricane,” the governor told reporters. “We’re liable to have a whole lot of flooding.”
Hours later Trump approved emergency declarations for both coastal states, a standard move allowing the release of federal funds and equipment to aid in protection and recovery efforts.
The US president said he had spoken with governors of threatened states, adding that the “federal government stands by, ready to assist 24/7.”
Hurricane Florence has the potential to bring catastrophic flooding to areas of the eastern United States already soaked by heavy rain and it may be the strongest storm to hit the region in decades.
A Category 4 on the five-level Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, Florence was 465 miles south-southeast of Bermuda and the center of the hurricane was forecast to pass between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its 11:00 pm advisory.
Forecasters expected some strengthening in the next 36 hours, as Florence marched west-northwest at around 13 miles per hour.
At a hardware store in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, store manager John Johnson said the rush on batteries, flashlights, plastic tarps and sandbags began Friday.
Storm surge and hurricane watches may be issued early Tuesday for portions of southeastern US states, the NHC said.
On its current track, Florence is expected to slam the Carolinas and Virginia the hardest.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s office said Florence is already being felt along the state’s coast, with large sea swells resulting in life-threatening rip currents and surf.
“This is a huge storm,” said Robert Woodward, chairperson of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, predicting 38 to 50 centimeters of rain.
“Never have we seen quite this type of a storm approach us.”
Please do not ignore evacuation instructions from officials because of any storm surge forecast you see that’s based on the single, exact track/intensity forecast for #Florence. A change of even just a few miles in track can mean life or death for anyone who doesn’t evacuate. pic.twitter.com/Br83NQ4EOK
— Dr. Rick Knabb (@DrRickKnabb) September 11, 2018