‘Life-threatening’ Hurricane Florence edged closer to the US east coast on Thursday, with tropical-force winds and rain already lashing barrier islands just off the North Carolina mainland.
The huge storm weakened to a Category 2 hurricane overnight, but forecasters warned that it still packed a dangerous punch with 110 mph winds, life-threatening storm surge and torrential rains.
The center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and South Carolina on Thursday, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina on Thursday night and Friday.
Georgia joined four other coastal states issuing an emergency declaration as forecasts showed Florence dumping historic amounts of rain on the southern state.
As Florence closed in, President Donald Trump and state and local officials urged residents in the path of the storm to evacuate.
‘We are completely ready for hurricane Florence, as the storm gets even larger and more powerful. Be careful!’ Trump tweeted.
The size of Hurricane Florence, with winds of around 130 miles an hour, seen from space as a camera outside the International Space Station captures the eye of Category 2 storm as it heads towards the south east coast of America
Hurricane Florence put a corridor of more than 10 million people in the crosshairs Wednesday as the monster storm closed in on the Carolinas (Sand bags surround homes on North Topsail Beach, N.C., Wednesday)
The coastal homes on North Topsail Beach, North Carolina, prepare for Hurricane Florence on Wednesday
A US Cellular store uses sandbags at their front entrance afternoon as they prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Florence
Tybee Island residents Sib McLellan, left, and his wife, Lisa McLellan, load sandbags into the back of their truck while preparing for Hurricane Florence, Wednesday
A message is posted on a boarded up building before the arrival of Hurricane Florence on Oak Island, North Carolina
Steve Wareheim poses for a photo after making one last grocery run to prepare for Hurricane Florence at a grocery store in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. on Wednesday
Marge Brown, 65, says goodbye to her father, George Brown, 90, before he is evacuated from a healthcare home in Morehead City, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. ‘I’d like to stay and see what happens. I’m 90 plus,’ said Brown, a WWII veteran who says he’s survived a plane crash and severe burns from a laboratory fire where he once worked
Tim Avery pulls boards to the third story of a home as he prepares for Hurricane Florence at a home in Emerald Isle N.C., Wednesday
A boat is docked partially in the road as workers pull boats from the water in Wanchese Harbor in Wanchese, N.C. as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast of the Carolinas, Wednesday
A sign posts a mandatory evacuation prior to Hurricane Florence in Emerald Isle N.C., Wednesday
Faced with new forecasts that showed a more southerly threat, Georgia’s governor joined his counterparts in Virginia and North and South Carolina in declaring a state of emergency, and some residents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes.
The National Hurricane Center’s best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.
Florence’s nighttime winds were down to 110 mph from a high of 140 mph, and the Category 3 storm fell to a Category 2, with a further slow weakening expected as the storm nears the coast.
But authorities warned it will still be an extremely dangerous hurricane.
‘Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?’ said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Tropical storm-force winds extended 195 miles from Florence’s center, and hurricane-force winds reached out 70 miles .
The National Weather Service said 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches.
At the White House, President Donald Trump both touted the government’s readiness and urged people to get out of the way of Florence.
‘Don’t play games with it. It’s a big one,’ he said.
As of 11 p.m., the storm was centered 280 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving northwest at 17 mph. The hurricane center said Florence will approach the coast Friday and linger for a while before rolling ashore.
As of Tuesday, more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. Airlines had canceled nearly 1,000 flights and counting. Home Depot and Lowe’s activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks.
Duke Energy, the nation’s No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm’s aftermath, it said.
The hurricane is expected to pass over six nuclear power plants in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Duke Energy operates 11 reactors at six sites in the Carolinas, including the Brunswick Nuclear Plant. The company is also preparing for potential shutdown of nuclear reactors at least two hours before the arrival of hurricane-force winds.
Patio furniture is seen in the pool in an effort to keep it from flying away as people prepare ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence on September 12
Doug Lewis (L) and Chris Williams use plywood with the words ‘Looters will be shot’ to cover the windows of Knuckleheads bar as they try to protect the business ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence on September 12
People and pets evacuate ahead of the forecasted landfall of Hurricane Florence and seek shelter at Burgaw Middle School in Burgaw, North Carolina, USA, 12 September
Gasoline pumps are wrapped in plastic to prevent people from using them at a closed station before the arrival of Hurricane Florence, September 12
Sarah Dankanich, right, removes an ‘out of service’ wrapper from a gas pump as her husband, Bryan Dankanich, left, prepares to pump gas in cans in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C., Wednesday
A gas station sits empty with its fuel pumps wrapped in caution tape in Jacksonville, North Carolina, on September 12,
Sarah Dankanich, right, removes an ‘out of service’ wrapper from a gas pump as her husband prepares to pump gas in cans in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C., Wednesday. Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 140 mph
The Brunswick plant’s two reactors are of the same design as those in Fukushima, Japan, that exploded and leaked radiation following a 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Despite the evacuation order, South Carolina Department of Corrections decided not to remove inmates at the Ridgeland Correctional Institution.
SCDC spokesman Dexter Lee said: ‘In the past, it’s been safer to leave them there’.
Some inmates and staff at North Carolina prisons were being moved to safety on Wednesday. Officials would not reveal which prisons or where they were being evacuated too, citing security reasons.
Several interstates and several state offices – including the University of South Carolina – and schools across 26 counties in the eastern part of the state closed on Wednesday.
‘We don’t want the school children in harm’s way,’ McMaster told The State. We know it’s going to hit somewhere where it’s going to have a dramatic impact on South Carolina. We’re going to get a whole lot of water that we haven’t seen in some time.’
McMaster previously issued a mandatory medical evacuation of 177 hospitals and medical facilities, including nursing homes, in the eight coastal counties.
Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.
‘In 12 or 18 hours, they may be saying different things all over again,’ he said.
Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty. In contrast to the hurricane center’s official projection, a highly regarded European model had the storm turning southward off the North Carolina coast and coming ashore near the Georgia-South Carolina line.
Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.
As store windows are prepped with plywood a couple waits for their automobile in Nags Head, N.C., Wednesday
People line up outside a Home Depot for a new supply of generators and plywood in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C., Wednesday
Eye of the storm: Government officials warned that Hurricane Florence would deliver a ‘Mike Tyson punch’ to the Carolina states as the south east coast braced itself for the impact
‘I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence,’ Deal said.
The shift in the projected track spread concern to areas that once thought they were relatively safe. In South Carolina, close to the Georgia line, Beaufort County emergency chief Neil Baxley told residents they need to prepare again for the worst just in case.
‘We’ve had our lessons. Now it might be time for the exam,’ he said.
In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged people to remain away from home despite forecast changes showing Florence’s path largely missing the state.
Their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter’s one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle.
‘We’re just trying to plan for the future here, not having a house for an extended period of time,’ David Garrigus said.
Melody Rawson evacuated her first-floor apartment in Myrtle Beach and arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, to camp for free with three other adults, her disabled son, two dogs and a pet bird.
Jason Moore, of Raleigh, N.C., packs to evacuate from Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast
Phoebe Tesh takes a break from packing to evacuate from Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast
‘We hope to have something left when we get home,’ she said.
Forecasters worried the storm’s damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast. The trend is ‘exceptionally bad news,’ said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it ‘smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge.’
With South Carolina’s beach towns more in the bull’s-eye because of the shifting forecast, Ohio vacationers Chris and Nicole Roland put off their departure from North Myrtle Beach to get the maximum amount of time on the sand. Most other beachgoers were long gone.
‘It’s been really nice,’ Nicole Roland said. ‘Also, a little creepy. You feel like you should have already left.
‘We cannot stress the importance to our citizens that are in evacuations to heed the local and state warnings,’ Jeffrey Byard of FEMA had warned at a news conference on Tuesday.
‘Hurricane Florence is the strongest storm to target the Carolinas and this part of our country in decades.’
Byard said that they are bracing for ‘massive damage,’ power outages and even fatalities.
‘This storm will and has the potential to cause loss of life, and we cannot emphasize the importance to take action now,’ said Byard.
On Tuesday night, the storm was about 350 miles southwest of Bermuda and is moving northwest, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Hog farmers along the East Coast were also scrambling to drain their waste pools ahead of the storm. Hog farms each have open-air ‘lagoons’ filled with manure – which turn bright pink due to the bacteria festering in the lagoons.
If the rivers break their banks, or lagoons overflow, affecting local waterways, which could damage to local environment and put drinking water sources and public health at risk.
Flooding could also lead to the deaths of thousands of animals if they cannot be evacuated in time.
Marlowe Vaughan of Ivy Spring Creek Farm in Goldsboro, spent most of Tuesday pumping liquid waste from her lagoons to make more room for incoming rainfall.
‘We try to pump down as much as we can, but after that, it’s kind of in God’s hands. We’re kind of at the mercy of the storm.’