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Hurricane Florence: US braces for ‘catastrophic’ storm

WASHINGTON declared a state of emergency on Tuesday as Hurricane Florence beared down on the US East Coast, threatening torrential rain and flooding into the US capital’s region.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference on Tuesday the emergency was “effective immediately” and that the measure “ensures that we will have the resources we need to prepare for Florence.”

More than a million coastal residents have been ordered to leave their homes ahead of the storm’s projected arrival on Thursday, with emergencies already declared in the states of North and South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.

At this stage the hurricane is expected to make landfall at 8pm Thursday EST (10am Friday AEST).

The 15-day emergency signed by Mayor Bowser noted that Florence was “forecasted to produce high winds, rainfall and storm surge” with “serious widespread effects in the region.”

media_cameraPeople hurry to board up shops in anticipation of Hurricane Florence at Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. Picture: AFP

The last time the US capital declared a state of emergency was in January 2016 when a winter storm dubbed “Snowzilla” blanketed the capital and its region in knee-deep snow.

As Hurricane Florence churned toward an eventual Eastern Seaboard landfall, evacuations were imposed for parts of three East Coast states on Tuesday and millions of Americans prepared for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the region in decades.

Hurricane Florence’s size is “staggering,” National Hurricane Centre Director Ken Graham warned.

“We could cover several states easily with the cloud cover alone,” Mr Graham said. “This is not just a coastal event.”

media_cameraMillions of Americans are preparing for what could be one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades. Picture: AP

The centre of the massive storm is forecast to make landfall along a stretch of coastline already saturated by rising seas and then meander through Thursday, Friday and Saturday, inundating several states and triggering life-threatening floods.

Seven-day rainfall totals are forecast to reach 25 to 50 centimetres over much of North Carolina and Virginia, and even 75 centimetres in some places. Combined with high tides, the storm surge could swell as high as three metres.

The South Carolina Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety began the process of “flushing” Interstate 26 on Tuesday morning, September 11, in order to reverse lanes for coastal evacuations ahead of Hurricane Florence. South Carolina Gov Henry McMaster issued evacuation orders for all of the state’s coastal counties. To facilitate the evacuations, traffic on all lanes of I-26 will be traveling westbound. The first video shown here was shot on I-26 in Columbia. Credit: South Carolina Department of Public Safety via Storyful

South Carolina Troopers Reverse Highway Lanes for Hurricane Evacuations

“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,” Mr 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.”

US President Donald Trump declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina, facilitating federal help, and cancelled campaign events Thursday and Friday, citing the storm.

“Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!” Mr Trump tweeted, adding: “WE are here for you.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said his state is “in the bullseye” and urged people to “get ready now.”

media_cameraOnlookers take pictures on Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina before the arrival of Hurricane Florence. Picture: AFP

The very centre of that bullseye may be Camp Lejeune, the sprawling Marine Corps training base, where authorities were opening emergency operation centres, staging equipment and urging families on the base to build survival kits with food and equipment needed to sustain themselves for 72 hours.

Mandatory coastal evacuations were in effect for civilians in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, but the military base posted on Facebook that different chains-of-command would decide whether to release non-essential personnel, and some relatives vented fears that they wouldn’t be able to evacuate in time.

Florence could hit the Carolinas harder than any hurricane since Hazel smashed 209 kmh 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.

media_cameraA man helps board up Aussie Island surf shop as locals await Hurricane Florence. Picture: AFP

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.

media_cameraWashington has declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Florence bears down on the US east coast. Picture: AFP

“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.

US airlines, including American, Southwest, Delta and JetBlue, have begun letting affected passengers change travel plans without the usual fees.

Originally published as ‘Staggering’ Florence bears down on US

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