Florence strengthens to Category 4, takes aim at Carolinas

Jim Craig, David Burke and Chris Rayner load generators as people buy supplies at The Home Depot on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Wilmington, N.C. Hurricane Florence rapidly strengthened into a potentially catastrophic hurricane on Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (Ken Blevins/The Star-News via AP)

Florence explodes into potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane, closes in on North and South Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. — Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week.

Communities along a stretch of coastline that's vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change prepared to evacuate the storm, which forecasters expect to be close to Category 5 strength by Tuesday. The South Carolina governor ordered the state's entire coastline to be evacuated starting at noon Tuesday and predicted that 1 million people would flee. And Virginia's governor ordered a mandatory evacuation for some residents of low-lying coastal areas.

The storm's first effects were already apparent on barrier islands as dangerous rip currents hit beaches and seawater flowed over a state highway.

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 to the Appalachian mountains and as far away as West Virginia, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous conditions.

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 and Southwest, have started letting passengers change travel plans that take them into the hurricane's possible path.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that Florence was forecast to linger over the Carolinas once it reaches shore. People living well inland should prepare to lose power and endure flooding and other hazards, he warned.

"It's not just the coast," Graham said. "When you stall a system like this and it moves real slow, some of that rainfall can extend well away from the center."

A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 85 degrees (30 Celsius), hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence's hurricane wind field was expected to expand over the coming days, increasing its storm surge and inland wind threats.

By 11 p.m. Monday, Florence was centered about 1,170 miles (1,085 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west at 13 mph (20 kph). Its center will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Two other storms were spinning in the Atlantic. Hurricane Isaac was expected to lose strength as it reaches the Caribbean, and Helene, much farther out to sea, may veer northward into the open ocean as the 2018 hurricane season reaches its peak.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Olivia triggered warnings for multiple Hawaiian islands as it blew west toward an arrival over the state as soon as late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Preparations for Florence were intensifying up and down the densely populated coast. Since reliable record-keeping began more than 150 years ago, North Carolina has been hit by only one Category 4 hurricane: Hazel, with 130 mph winds, in 1954. As the storm approaches, President Donald Trump on Monday approved a state of emergency for North Carolina.

The parking lot has been full for three days at the Ace Hardware store in coastal Calabash, North Carolina, where manager Tom Roberts said he sold 150 gas cans in two hours Monday, along with generators, plywood, rope, manual can openers, sand bags and a plethora of other items.

"I've been doing this since 1983," Roberts said as he completed an order for another 18-wheeler full of supplies. "This is the craziest one."

Many newcomers have moved to the coast in the nearly 19 years since the last strong hurricane — Floyd — threatened the area. Roberts said he's telling them to get out of town.

"I'm telling them to go inland, but I'm worried about the rain and tornadoes too," Roberts said.

Several meteorologists said Florence could do what Hurricane Harvey did last year over Texas, dumping days of rain, although not quite as bad.

"I think this is very Harvey-esque," said University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy. "Normally, a landfalling tropical cyclone just keeps on going inland, gradually dissipating and raining itself out. But on rare occasions, the steering patterns can line up such that a storm slips into a dead zone between troughs and ridges."

On North Carolina's Outer Banks, Dawn Farrow Taylor, 50, was gathering photos and important documents and filling prescriptions Monday before heading inland. She grew up on the island chain, and says this will be only the second time she's evacuated.

"I don't think many of us have ever been through a Category 4. And out here we're so fragile. We're just a strip of land — we're a barrier island," she said.

In the village of Buxton, Liz Browning Fox plans to ride the storm out in her house on top of a ridge. She believes her home, built in 2009, will be secure, but it's hard to foresee all potential hazards.

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

In announcing his evacuation order, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said an estimated 1 million people would be fleeing the coast. Eastbound lanes of Interstate 26 heading into Charleston and U.S. 501 heading into Myrtle Beach will be reversed when the order takes effect.

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

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said his state was "in the bullseye" of the storm and urged people to "get ready now."

___

Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay in Miami; Jeffrey Collins and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Related News

Slain runner from NYC laid to rest in Massachusetts

Aug 16, 2016

A New York City woman killed while out running near her mother's Massachusetts home was remembered at her funeral Tuesday for the light she brought to the lives of everyone she touched

'American Horror Story' coming to Halloween Horror Nights

Aug 17, 2016

The ghosts, vampires and other freaky misfits from "American Horror Story" are coming to Universal Studios

Casino mogul Wynn readies lavish new Macau resort

Aug 17, 2016

Steve Wynn's Macau resort brims with auspicious Chinese symbolism, and the U.S. casino mogul will need luck on his side as launches his $4.2 billion Wynn Palace project in the gambling hub as growth downshifts

You may also like these

Racers whip across Utah's famed salt flats after 2 years off

Aug 17, 2016

Thousands of racers have descended on Utah's famed Bonneville Salt Flats after two years of cancellations

'Diddy' delays tour to recover from shoulder surgery

Aug 19, 2016

Sean "Diddy" Combs will be kicking off his tour later than expected after undergoing shoulder surgery

Officials: Zika found in South Beach; spraying not practical

Aug 19, 2016

Florida officials say South Beach has been identified as a second site of Zika transmission by mosquitoes on the U.S. mainland

Traveller SEA (South-East Asia) is for wanderlust looking for an adventure in the South-East Asia region and the rest of the world.

Contact us: sales@tvlseacom.com