Florence is getting more organized and bigger as it barrels for North Carolina, with coastal residents fleeing what may be the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in 64 years.
Landfall is expected late Thursday or early Friday, and on its current path the eye of the storm will pass near Wilmington and the southern beach towns. Mandatory evacuations are in place amid forecasts for a 12-foot (3.7-meter) storm surge, and expectations of as much as $27 billion in damages.
Florence remains a Category 4 storm, packing 130 mile-per-hour winds as it gets closer to shore, according to a 2 p.m. update from the U.S. Hurricane Center. It’s expected to be the worst in the region since Hurricane Hazel made landfall near the North Carolina-South Caroline border in 1954.
“While some weakening is expected on Thursday, Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through landfall,” the center said. “Hurricane-force winds have expanded outward and now extend up to 60 miles (95 km) from the center.”
The storm is currently 845 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. Florence’s storm surge threatens more than 750,000 homes in the region, according to the property analytics firm CoreLogic.
Florence “will bring extreme wind damage and surge damage,’’ said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
South Carolina lifted mandatory evacuation orders for three coastal counties as the storm’s path became more certain.
“This is still a very dangerous storm,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said at a briefing on Tuesday. “We’re in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence.”
President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to meet with the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency at 3 p.m., said the government is “absolutely, totally prepared” for Florence. He declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina, which frees up help from federal agencies. He also canceled campaign events Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the storm.
Some forecasts call for Florence to stall out after it strikes the coast. That would mean more flooding rains across a large part of the U.S. South, expanding the damage, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.
The storm has spurred a broad range of reactions:
- The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia have declared emergencies.
- Power companies warned residents may be without power for days or weeks.
- Ports in the region are stowing empty containers and preparing to shift to generator power if needed for refrigeration.
- Port of Virginia will halt terminal activities at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.
- Hog and poultry companies are filling feed bins, checking generators, stocking up on fuel.
- Daimler AG and Volvo Car Group have suspended operations at factories in South Carolina because of the storm.
- Further east, forecasters are watching Hurricane Helene and Tropical Storm Isaac in the Atlantic, and a patch of showers in the western Caribbean, which has a 30 percent chance of becoming a cyclone in the next 2 days.
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