Wednesday 23 January 2019

One million flee as Hurricane Florence bears down on US

A man helps board up Aussie Island surf shop in Wrightsville, North Carolina yesterday in anticipation of Hurricane Florence’s high storm surge. Photo: Getty Images
A man helps board up Aussie Island surf shop in Wrightsville, North Carolina yesterday in anticipation of Hurricane Florence’s high storm surge. Photo: Getty Images

Rachael Alexander

Hurricane Florence is churning towards the US east coast, prompting authorities to order more than a million people to evacuate the path of the extremely dangerous storm, which forecasters said could soon intensify.

Residents scrambled to flee as the category four storm, with winds of 225kmh, approached.

"This is one of the worst storms to hit the east coast in many years," President Donald Trump warned on Twitter. "Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!"

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered as many as a million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the storm's predicted arrival tomorrow. Schools in 26 of the state's 46 counties were to close from yesterday.

The governor of neighbouring North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination, and parts of coastal Dare County, while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia.

"This is a very dangerous hurricane," Mr McMaster said, adding that the evacuation order for coastal counties was "mandatory, not voluntary".

"We do not want to risk one South Carolina life in this hurricane," the governor added. "We're liable to have a whole lot of flooding."

Hours later, Mr Trump approved emergency declarations for both coastal states, a move allowing the release of federal funds and equipment to help protection and recovery efforts.

The US president said he had spoken to governors of threatened states, adding that the "federal government stands by, ready to assist 24/7".

Hurricane Florence has the potential to bring catastrophic flooding to areas of the eastern US already soaked by heavy rain and it may be the strongest storm to hit the region in decades.

A category four on the five-level Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, Florence was 750km south-south-east of Bermuda and the centre of the hurricane was forecast to pass between Bermuda and the Bahamas yesterday and today, the US's National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

Forecasters expected some strengthening today, as Florence marches west-north-west at around 13kmh.

The US Navy said it was preparing to send about 30 ships stationed in Virginia out to sea.

At a hardware shop in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, store manager John Johnson said the rush on batteries, torches, plastic tarpaulins and sandbags began late last week.

"From 8am until 2pm we were slammed," said Johnson, who sold scores of bags of sand over the weekend, saving just a few to barricade the store's own doors. "We were non-stop."

Nurse Barbara Mack was using a small shovel to fill sandbags at a public works facility in Charleston, but she saw a silver lining in the hurricane preparations. "This is probably the only exercise I get this week," she said.

Half her supply was going to barricade a basement soup kitchen she manages and the other half was going to protect her own home on nearby Johns Island.

On its current track, Florence is expected to hit the Carolinas and Virginia the hardest, the NHC said.

"Don't concentrate on the exact forecast track of Hurricane Florence," the National Weather Service warned. "Significant effects will extend outside the cone, and will arrive at the coast sooner than the eye."

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's office predicted "catastrophic inland flooding, high winds and possible widespread power outages", cautioning that the deadliest risk would come from flooding.

Irish Independent

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