WILMINGTON: Coastal North Carolina felt the first bite of Hurricane Florence on Thursday as winds began to rise, a prelude to the slow-moving tempest that forecasters warned would cause catastrophic flooding across a wide swath of the US southeast.
The centre of Florence, no longer classified as a major hurricane but a grave threat to life and property, is expected to hit North Carolina’s southern coast on Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, enough time to drop as much as 40 inches of rain, according to the National Hurricane Centre.
An estimated 10 million people live in areas expected to be under a hurricane or storm advisory, according to the US Weather Prediction Centre, and businesses and homes in the storm’s path were boarded up in anticipation. More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia and thousands moved to emergency shelters, officials said.
“There is still time to leave,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told CBS This Morning on Thursday. “This is an extremely dangerous situation.”
Florence’s maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 175 kmph after it was downgraded to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the NHC.
The storm’s centre was about 265 km east of Wilmington, North Carolina, at 9 am EDT (1300 GMT) but tropical storm-strength winds and heavy rains already were hitting North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier islands.
Florence could bring wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet and NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook they could push in as far as 3 km. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.
The storm will be a test of President Donald Trump’s administration less than two months before elections to determine control of Congress. After criticism for its response in Puerto Rico to last year’s Hurricane Maria, which officials there said was responsible for 3,000 deaths, Trump has vowed a vigorous response to Florence and defended his handling of Maria.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump said on Twitter.
“When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths... Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3,000.” — Reuters