‘Big and vicious’: Hurricane Florence closes in on Carolinas

  • People drive over a drawbridge in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., as they evacuate the area in advance of Hurricane Florence, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) Chuck Burton

  • Brandon Alston carries a board to be placed over a window of the Casemate Museum on Fort Monroe, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Hampton, Va. The staff is preparing for rising waters and other possible flooding due to Hurricane Florence. (Jonathon Gruenke/The Daily Press via AP) Jonathon Gruenke

  • President Donald Trump looks at a chart showing potential rainfall totals from Hurricane Florence during a briefing in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

  • Police cars block the Ashley Phosphate Road exit ramp off Interstate 26 in North Charleston, S.C., as both sides of the highway flow westbound toward Columbia, S.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in preparation for Hurricane Florence. (AP Photo/Mic Smith) Mic Smith

  • Hurricane Florence is seen in the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday as it threatens the U.S. East Coast, including Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina. Courtesy NOAA

  • This Sept. 10, 2018, GOES East satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence as it threatens the U.S. East Coast. As mandatory evacuations begin for parts of several East Coast states, millions of Americans have been preparing for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades. (NOAA via AP)

  • Kevin Orth loads sandbags into cars on Milford Street as he helps residents prepare for Hurricane Florence, Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Charleston, S.C. (Grace Beahm Alford/The Post And Courier via AP) By Grace Beahm Alford gbeahm@postandcourier.com

  • In this Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, photo released by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze departs Naval Station Norfolk after the announcement of Hurricane Florence, in Norfolk, Va. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert/U.S. Navy via AP) MC2 Justin Wolpert

  • Alexis Browning enjoyed the sunny weather and waves along Wrightsville Beach, N.C. as others prepared for Hurricane Florence Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. Hurricane Florence now a category 3 hurricane is expected to make land fall somewhere along the North Carolina coastline towards the end of the week. (Ken Blevins /The Star-News via AP) Ken Blevins

  • Governor Roy Cooper talks to emergency personnel local officials and members of the media about the ongoing Hurricane Florence preparation efforts in the Emergency Operations Center at the New Hanover County Administration Building In Wilmington, N.C. Sept. 10, 2018. Hurricane Florence now a category 3 hurricane is expected to make land fall somewhere along the North Carolina coastline towards the end of the week. (Ken Blevins /The Star-News via AP) Ken Blevins

  • This image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence, third from right, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, as it threatens the U.S. East Coast. At right is Hurricane Helene, and second from right is Tropical Storm Isaac. (NOAA via AP)

  • Garland Meadows of Redix boards up the front windows of the store in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Mandatory evacuations were imposed for parts of several East Coast states Tuesday as millions of Americans prepared for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP) Matt Born

Associated Press
Published: 9/11/2018 5:52:04 PM

Motorists streamed inland on highways converted to one-way evacuation routes Tuesday as about 1.7 million people in three states were warned to get out of the way of Hurricane Florence, a hair-raising storm taking dead aim at the Carolinas with 130 mph winds and potentially ruinous rains.

Florence was expected to blow ashore late Thursday or early Friday, then slow down and wring itself out for days, unloading 1 to 2½ feet of rain that could cause flooding well inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

Forecasters and politicians pleaded with the public to take the warnings seriously and minced no words in describing the threat.

“This storm is a monster. It’s big and it’s vicious. It is an extremely, dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

He added: “The waves and the wind this storm may bring is nothing like you’ve ever seen. Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”

President Donald Trump declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina, opening the way for federal aid. He said the federal government was “absolutely, totally prepared” for Florence.

North and South Carolina and Virginia ordered mass evacuations along the coast. But getting out of harm’s way could prove difficult.

Florence is so wide that a life-threatening storm surge was being pushed 300 miles ahead of its eye, and so wet that a swath from South Carolina to Ohio and Pennsylvania could get deluged.

People across the region rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies, board up their homes or get out of town.

A line of heavy traffic moved away from the coast on Interstate 40, the main route between the port city of Wilmington and inland Raleigh. Between the two cities, about two hours apart, the traffic flowed smoothly in places and became gridlocked in others because of fender-benders.

Only a trickle of vehicles was going in the opposite direction, including pickup trucks carrying plywood and other building materials.

Service stations started running out of gas as far west as Raleigh, with bright yellow bags, signs or rags placed over the pumps to show they were out of order. Some store shelves were picked clean.

“There’s no water, there’s no juices, there’s no canned goods,” Kristin Harrington said as she shopped at a Walmart in Wilmington, N.C.

At 5 p.m., the storm was centered 785 miles southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., moving at 17 mph. It was a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm but was expected to keep drawing energy from the warm water and intensify to near Category 5, which means winds of 157 mph or higher.

The storm’s coastal surge could leave the eastern tip of North Carolina under more than 9 feet of water in spots, projections showed.

“This one really scares me,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said.

Federal officials begged residents to put together emergency kits and have a plan on where to go.

“This storm is going to knock out power days into weeks. It’s going to destroy infrastructure. It’s going to destroy homes,” said Jeff Byard, an official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Forecasters said parts of North Carolina could get 20 inches of rain, if not more, with as much as 10 inches elsewhere in the state and in Virginia, parts of Maryland and Washington, D.C.

One trusted computer model, the European simulation, predicted more than 45 inches in parts of North Carolina. A year ago, people would have laughed off such a forecast, but the European model was accurate in predicting 60 inches for Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, so “you start to wonder what these models know that we don’t,” said University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy.

Rain measured in feet is “looking likely,” he said.

Florence could slam the Carolinas harder than any hurricane since Hazel , which hit in 1954 with 130 mph winds. The Category 4 storm destroyed 15,000 buildings and killed 19 people in North Carolina.

In the six decades since, many thousands of people have moved to the coast.

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