Steve Wareheim poses for a photo after making one last grocery run to prepare for Hurricane Florence at a grocery store in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Wareheim decided to ride out the storm at home after buying a generator this week. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

Time nearly up: Fierce Hurricane Florence aims at Southeast

More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out

Time is running short to flee Hurricane Florence, a monster of a storm zeroing in on the Southeastern coast with more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights.

Florence’s top sustained wind speeds dropped from a high of 140 mph (225 kph) to 110 mph (175 kph) as its outer rain bands approached the North Carolina coast early Thursday, reducing the storm from Category 4 to Category 2, but forecasters warned that the enormous wind field has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land.

“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 Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As of 5 a.m. EDT it was centred about 205 miles (325 kilometres) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and about 250 miles (450 kilometres) east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph).

The National Hurricane Center’s best guess was that Florence’s eye would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Then, it will likely hover along the coast Saturday, pushing up to 13 feet (nearly 4 metres) of storm surge and dumping 20 to 30 inches (50 to 75 centimetres) of rain on both states, before slogging over the Appalachian Mountains.

The result: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farm fields and industrial sites.

About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million more live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 mph (160 kph), but that’s still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and the rain and storm surge will make Florence extremely dangerous.

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.

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 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.

Duke Energy, the nation’s No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 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, South Carolina, 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.

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.

In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged them to stay in safer locations despite forecast changes showing Florence’s path largely missing the state.

With their entire neighbourhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, 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.

“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, Georgia, 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.”

With South Carolina’s beach towns now 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.”

___

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington; Jonathan Drew in Wilmington, North Carolina; Jennifer Kay in Miami; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina; Jeff Martin in Hampton, Georgia; David Koeing in Dallas; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Lake Country still investigating cause for water main break

Over 2,500 residences and businesses in Lake Country and Kelowna remain under boil water notice

Housing provided for women and children fleeing violence in Penticton

Announcement on Friday is part of a provincewide initiative to construct additional housing.

Kelowna RCMP raid home on Lawson Avenue

RCMP, Emergency Response Team execute search warrant, one man arrested

Friend of accused Kelowna murderer takes the stand

Elrich Dyck’s testimony continued Friday with details from the night Chris Ausman was killed

Developer breaks ground on downtown Kelowna rental housing project

Apartments at 726 Clement Ave. are projected to cost $1,300 per month or $1,780 per month

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

Sit-in on Saturday will protest move to curb loitering in Penticton’s downtown

Nanaimo Square Sit-In is taking place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Crews respond to smoke at Penticton thrift store

The rooftop A/C unit began filling the building with smoke, prompting them to evacuate

People’s Party of Canada leader talks B.C. trade to Penticton supporters

Maxime Bernier, head of the new federal political party, spoke at Time Winery on Friday

Princeton RCMP recover stolen homework and save the grade

It’s a slightly better excuse than “the dog ate my homework.” Earlier… Continue reading

New Summerland distillery has received recognition

Alchemist Distiller won audience choice award at recent competition

Scheer says it would take Conservatives five years to balance budget

Scheeraccused the Liberal government of spending $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted funds

Vancouver woman sexually assaulted after man follows her home; suspect at large

Police are looking for an Asian man in his 40s after the incident on Vancouver’s east side.

B.C. man, 30, arrested for driving his parents’ cars while impaired twice in one day

The Vancouver-area man was arrested after officers caught him driving impaired twice in one day

Most Read