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Extreme weather

‘We’re in the bullseye’: North Carolina residents told to evacuate as Hurricane Florence nears

The storm is expected to be the most powerful to hit US mainland this year; North Carolina’s governor declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, as did his counterparts in neighbouring South Carolina and Virginia

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 2:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 8:36pm

North Carolina residents boarded up their homes and piled cars with valuables on Monday after officials in that state and two others warned coastal areas would be hit from Hurricane Florence, the most powerful storm to take aim at the US mainland this year.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, as did his counterparts in neighbouring South Carolina and Virginia. South Carolina ordered an estimated 1 million people to evacuate its coast.

The storm had winds of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometres per hour) and was due to gain strength before it made landfall, which the US National Hurricane Centre said was likely to occur early Thursday, bringing heavy rain that could cause severe flooding throughout the region.

“We do not want to risk one South Carolina life in this hurricane,” Governor Henry McMaster said at a news conference.

He estimated about 1 million people would be fleeing the coast.

In North Carolina, officials already had ordered some 250,000 residents and visitors to begin evacuating the Outer Banks barrier islands.

“We are in the bullseye,” Cooper told a news conference Monday. Officials ordered residents and visitors to begin evacuating the Outer Banks. “This is going to be a statewide event.”

The United States faced a series of high-powered hurricanes last year, including Hurricane Maria, which killed some 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, and Hurricane Harvey, which caused an estimated US$1.25 billion in damage when it brought catastrophic flooding to Houston.

By 11am Eastern time (11pm HKT) on Monday, Florence was about 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometres) east-southwest of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and was a Category 4, the second-strongest on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the NHC said. The rating system from 1 to 5 is based on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed.

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US President Donald Trump, whose administration faced severe criticism for a slow response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria, cancelled a political rally planned for Friday in Jackson, Mississippi, over safety concerns related to Florence, his campaign said.

Florence could bring a life-threatening coastal storm surge, and inland flooding as far north as Virginia, the NHC said.

Historically, 90 per cent of fatalities from hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions have been caused by water, said NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Some 27 per cent of the deaths have come from rain-driven flooding, sometimes hundreds of miles inland.

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Holden Beach, North Carolina, was in the storm’s path, according to forecasts on Monday. Long-time residents could be seen boarding up homes and securing possessions.

“It’s scary to all of us. We know we can’t play around with this,” said Jennifer Oosterwyk, who owns the Sugar Britches boutique on Holden Beach and lives in nearby Wilmington.

Oosterwyk was gathering important papers including tax documents from her store on Monday, and said she planned to drive 240km (150 miles) inland to Cary to ride the storm out.

Dare County Emergency Management told residents and visitors to evacuate Hatteras Island by Tuesday at noon.

The US military said it was sending an advanced team to Raleigh, North Carolina, to coordinate with federal and state partners and that about 750 military personnel will be set aside to provide support.

The US Navy added that it was sending nearly 30 ships from Virginia to sea in order to avoid damage.

The NHC also was tracking two other hurricanes farther out in the Atlantic: Category 1 Isaac and Category 2 Helene.