Hurricane ‘Florence’: ‘Nothing like you’ve ever seen’
WILMINGTON, North Carolina — Coastal residents fleeing a potentially devastating blow from Hurricane “Florence” encountered empty gasoline pumps and depleted store shelves as the monster storm neared the Carolina coast with 225 kilometers per hour winds and drenching rain that could last for days.
While some said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings that include the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the East Coast, many weren’t taking any chances.
A steady stream of vehicles full of people and belongings flowed inland on Tuesday, and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper tried to convince everyone to flee.
“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,” Cooper said.
Forecasters said Florence was expected to blow ashore late Thursday or early Friday, then slow down and dump 0.3 to 0.6 meters of rain that could cause flooding well inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
States of emergency
US President Donald Trump declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina and Virginia, opening the way for federal aid.
Trump said the federal government was “absolutely, totally prepared” for Florence.
All three states ordered mass evacuations along the coast. But getting out of harm’s way could prove difficult.
Michelle Stober loaded up valuables on Tuesday at her home on Wrightsville Beach to take back to her primary residence in Cary, North Carolina. Finding fuel for the journey was tough.
“This morning I drove around for an hour looking for gas in Cary. Everyone was sold out,” she said.
Florence is so wide that a life-threatening storm surge was being pushed 485 km ahead of its eye, and so wet that a swath from South Carolina to Ohio and Pennsylvania could get deluged.
No water, no canned goods
People across the region rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies, board up their homes, pull their boats out of the water and get out of town.
Long lines formed at service stations, and some 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.
People weren’t the only ones evacuating to get out of the path of Florence.
Eight dogs and 18 cats from a shelter in Norfolk, Virginia, were sent to two shelters in Washington to make room for pets expected to be displaced by the hurricane.
At 11 p.m., the storm was centered 1,075 km southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 28 kph.
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 253 kph or higher.
Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic.
Tropical Storm “Isaac” was spotted east of the Lesser Antilles and expected to pass south of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba, while Hurricane “Helene” was moving northward away from land. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.
The coastal surge from Florence could leave the eastern tip of North Carolina under more than 2.75 meters of water in spots, projections showed.
“This one really scares me,” said National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham.
Federal officials begged residents to put together emergency kits and draw up 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 50 centimeters of rain, if not more, with as much as 25 cm elsewhere in the state and in Virginia, parts of Maryland and Washington.
One trusted computer model, the European simulation, predicted more than 115 cm in parts of North Carolina.
A year ago, people would have laughed off such a forecast, but the European model was accurate in predicting 150 cm for Hurricane “Harvey” in the Houston area, so “you start to wonder what these models know that we don’t,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane expert at the University of Miami.
Nuclear power plants
Florence’s projected path includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in huge lagoons.
Duke Energy spokesperson Ryan Mosier said operators would begin shutting down nuclear plants at least two hours before hurricane-force winds arrive.
North Carolina’s governor issued what he called a first-of-its-kind mandatory evacuation order for North Carolina’s fragile barrier islands from one end of the coast to the other.
Typically, local governments in North Carolina make the call on evacuations.
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