Storm could blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon
In this satellite image provided by NASA and the European Space Agency, Hurricane Florence churns through the Atlantic Ocean toward the U.S. East Coast on Wednesday. Authorities warned Florence has an enormous wind field that has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land and making Florence extremely dangerous.(ESA/NASA via Getty Images)How might Florence compare with recent U.S. hurricanes?
“Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?” said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the country’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center’s best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then slog its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses and farm fields.
‘Don’t play games with it’
About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the U.S. National Weather Service said.
The Canadian government has warned citizens against travel to the stretch of the U.S. East Coast that is expected to be hammered by Florence.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 160 km/h, but that’s still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and he said it will still be an extremely dangerous storm for rain and storm surge.
The hurricane centre is forecasting the storm to hover near the coast Saturday with winds of around 130 km/h before landfall, but with rainfall in the 50 to 75 centimetre range and nearly four metres of storm surge.
U.S. President Donald Trump both touted the government’s readiness and urged people to get out of the way. “Don’t play games with it. It’s a big one,” he said at the White House.
Roughly 1,000 flights cancelled
As of 2 a.m. ET Thursday, Florence was about 378 kilometres east-southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and about 450 kilometres east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., moving northwest at 28 km/h. The hurricane centre said Florence will approach the coast Friday and linger for a while before rolling ashore.
It’s unclear exactly how many people fled, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. Airlines had cancelled nearly 1,000 flights and counting. Home Depot and Lowe’s activated emergency response centres to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks.
Latonya Willis of Wilmington, N.C., holds her 17 month-old son Ayden with her other children Kaiden and Dailyn in tow Wednesday before heading out on an evacuation bus ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence. The storm could knock out electricity to several million customers in the Carolinas.(Randall Hill/Reuters)
Duke Energy, the nation’s No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its four million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm’s aftermath, it said.
Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.
“In 12 or 18 hours, they may be saying different things all over again,” he said.
Possible track drifts farther south
Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty. Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.
“I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence,” Deal said.
Doug Lewis and Chris Williams use plywood to cover the windows of Knuckleheads bar as they try to protect the business ahead of the arrival of Florence. Forecasters worry the storm’s damage will be worse if it lingers on the coast.(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged people to remain away from home despite forecast changes showing Florence’s path largely missing the state.
Their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, N.C., David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter’s one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle.
‘Exceptionally bad news’
“We’re just trying to plan for the future here, not having a house for an extended period of time,” David Garrigus said.
Melody Rawson evacuated her first-floor apartment in Myrtle Beach and arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., to camp for free with three other adults, her disabled son, two dogs and a pet bird.
“We hope to have something left when we get home,” she said. Three other Southern raceways also opened campgrounds to evacuees.
Forecasters worried the storm’s damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast. The trend is “exceptionally bad news,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it “smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge.”
A National Guardsman directs traffic onto U.S. Highway 501 as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast Wednesday.(Sean Rayford/Associated Press)
With South Carolina’s beach towns more in the bull’s-eye because of the shifting forecast, Ohio vacationers Chris and Nicole Roland put off their departure from North Myrtle Beach to get the maximum amount of time on the sand. Most other beachgoers were long gone.
“It’s been really nice,” Nicole Roland said. “Also, a little creepy. You feel like you should have already left.”
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