Mandatory evacuation orders are in effect Tuesday in three U.S. states as forecasters and officials urge people to get ready for devastating winds and heavy rains from Hurricane Florence.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says it expects the storm to make landfall in North Carolina or South Carolina late Thursday into Friday as “an extremely dangerous major hurricane.”
Florence is a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 220 kilometers per hour and forecasters think it will gain more strength Tuesday or Wednesday.
A Category 4 storm is capable of ripping roofs off houses, snapping or uprooting most trees, bringing lasting power outages and making areas uninhabitable for weeks or months.
In addition, forecasters expect Florence to drench areas along its direct path with 38 to 50 centimeters of rain.
The NHC issued a hurricane watch for the coastal area stretching from South Carolina up through North Carolina and into southern Virginia.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered an evacuation of his state’s entire coast and predicted as many as one million people would leave their homes.
In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper’s evacuation order included the Outer Banks barrier islands.
“North Carolina is taking Hurricane Florence seriously, and you should too,” Cooper said Monday. “Get ready now.”
He also asked President Donald Trump for an early federal disaster declaration to prepare for anticipated damage in the state.
“North Carolina faces three threats here. First, the ocean surge along our coast. Then, the strong winds, which may be higher than the other hurricanes that we have recently experienced. And of course, inland flooding from heavy rain. And we here in North Carolina are bracing for a hard hit,” Cooper told a news conference.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered evacuations in flood-prone areas in the Hampton Roads area, which is home to one of the busiest ports in the United States as well as the largest naval base in the world.
The Pentagon said Monday it has sent an advance military team to an emergency operations center in Raleigh, North Carolina, to coordinate with federal and state partners in relief efforts. Troops have received ready-to-deploy orders for Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
Trump tweeted to residents in the storm’s path urging them to “please take all necessary precautions.”
“To the incredible citizens of North Carolina, South Carolina and the entire East Coast — the storm looks very bad!” wrote the president, who canceled a planned rally Friday in Mississippi because of the impending storm.
At the same time Florence is expected to make its landfall, another storm, Isaac, is forecast to be at or near hurricane strength as it moves across the Lesser Antilles and into the eastern Caribbean Sea.
The NHC further expects Isaac to weaken to a tropical storm by Friday and Saturday as it moves near or south of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
A third Atlantic storm, Hurricane Helene, is not expected to impact any land in the coming days as it moves north over open water.