Storm may pack a wallop

National News

September 11, 2018 - 10:53 AM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Mandatory evacuations were imposed for parts of three East Coast states today as millions of Americans prepared for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades.
Hurricane Florence’s size is “staggering,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned.
“We could cover several states easily with the cloud cover alone,” Graham said. “This is not just a coastal event.”
Florence’s top winds dipped to 130 mph this morning, but it remains a Category 4 storm and is expected to approach the most-damaging Category 5 status as it slows and strengthens over very warm ocean water off the coast of North and South Carolina.
The center of the massive storm is then forecast to meander Thursday, Friday and Saturday over a stretch of coastline saturated by rising seas, inundating several states and triggering life-threatening floods. Seven-day rainfall totals are forecast to reach 10 to 20 inches over much of North Carolina and Virginia, and even 30 inches in some places. Combined with high tides, the storm surge could swell as high as 12 feet.
“The water could overtake some of these barrier islands and keep on going. With time, the wind pushes the water into every nook and cranny you can think of,” Graham said. “All you have to do is look up at your ceiling, and think about 12 feet (of water). That, folks, is extremely life-threatening.”
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said his state is “in the bullseye” and urged people to “get ready now.”
The very center of that bullseye may be Camp Lejeune, the sprawling Marine Corps training base, where authorities were opening emergency operation centers and staging equipment.
“Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!” tweeted President Donald Trump, adding: “WE are here for you.”
South Carolina’s governor ordered the state’s entire coastline evacuated starting at noon today and predicted that 1 million people would flee as highways reverse directions. Coastal evacuations were in effect for Virginia and North Carolina as well.
Florence could hit the Carolinas harder than any hurricane since Hazel packed 130 mph (209 kph) winds in 1954. That Category 4 storm destroyed 15,000 buildings and killed 19 people in North Carolina. In the six decades since then, many thousands of people have moved to the coast.
Ahead of Florence’s arrival, barrier islands were already seeing dangerous rip currents and seawater flowed over a state highway — the harbinger of a storm surge that could wipe out dunes and submerge entire communities.
Watches in effect Tuesday forecast a storm surge of up to 12 feet at high tide from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout in North Carolina. A hurricane watch was in effect for Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Virginia’s southern border, with the first hurricane-force winds arriving late Thursday.
For many people, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl, it could bring torrential rains all the way into the Appalachian mountains and as far away as West Virginia, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous conditions in places that have already experienced lots of rain recently.
“This is going to produce heavy rainfall, and it may not move very fast. The threat will be inland, so I’m afraid, based on my experience at FEMA, that the public is probably not as prepared as everybody would like,” said Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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