Carolinas brace for the worst as monstrous Hurricane Florence nears

The large and powerful hurricane has prompted evacuation orders in North and SC and Virginia, as officials urge residents in coastal and low-lying areas to prepare for strong winds, a deep storm surge and a deluge of rainfall.

"Hurricane Florence has the potential to cause catastrophic flooding, especially in our coastal areas", Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said, activating the National Guard.

In Virginia, 245,000 coastal residents were ordered to evacuate by 8am Tuesday including from the Eastern Shore, another popular beachfront getaway destination.

But a weather formation known as a high-pressure ridge is parked over the U.S. East coast, preventing Florence from doing the normal turn, said University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy.

Both the Hurricane and Storm Surge Watches cover the area from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, north to the North Carolina-Virginia border, according to a statement issued Tuesday.

Liz Browning Fox was planning to ride out the storm on the Outer Banks, defying evacuation orders. "Don't bet your life on riding out a monster".

Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com calculates that Hurricane Florence could dump about 18 trillion gallons of rain in seven days over the Carolinas and Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland.

Lester "Buddy" Stroud, a farm hand at Shelley Farms, walks through a field of tobacco ready to be harvested in the Pleasant View community of Horry County, South Carolina, U.S., July 26, 2013.

"In North Carolina, we estimate Travelers losses would be about $42 million for each $1 billion in insured losses, followed by Allstate at $37 million, Chubb at $25 million and Progressive at $21 million", wrote Citi analyst James Naklicki. "A lot of local people are staying", she said of the island, which is reachable only by ferry or plane.

As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Carolina coast, experts are warning of its potentially disastrous effects.

Florence's large size - tropical storm force winds extend 170 miles from the center in all directions - means its fury will arrive long before the center of the storm comes ashore, Graham said. More than one million people living along the Carolina-Virginia coast are under mandatory evacuation orders. There's a lot of interactions going on between the storm and the environment, and I think that's what makes it a hard problem, but an important one to study.

Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Rick Perry says the USA electricity sector has been well prepared for Hurricane Florence even as hundreds of thousands of homes lose power in the storm.

Utilities deployed crews and gear in advance, with workers en route to the region from at least 15 states, according to trade group, the Edison Electric Institute. William & Mary has canceled events from Friday through Sunday, including its football opener against Elon on Saturday. One power station, Duke Energy Corp's Brunswick plant, the closest to the area where landfall is forecast, faced a likely shutdown as a precaution. While wind damage is still ordinarily covered, insurers that were stung by storms such as Sandy in 2012, which swamped NY and New Jersey, have inserted clauses in their policies that limit coverage and set high deductibles, particularly when storms reach hurricane status.

"That's how the atmosphere works", he said. A hospital in Hampton, Virginia, was transferring patients to safer places.

Trump has declared states of emergency for North and SC ahead of the Category 4 hurricane, which frees up help from federal agencies.

"From eight o'clock 'til two 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.

The South Carolina National Guard has responded to multiple natural disasters over the last several years, including to Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, along with support to Texas for Hurricane Harvey and in Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria.

Days before its arrival, Florence was already disrupting commercial operations. Highways will be converted to one-way evacuation routes away from the evacuation zones.

This week is the expected peak of hurricane season, according to forecasters, so seeing these active storms churning through the Atlantic right now isn't fully unexpected. After the storm hits, staff are prepared to inspect the sites by foot, boat, and drone.

As of Tuesday morning, Hurricane Florence is still a Category 4, but Gentry said the rain total prediction has changed to three to six inches. "What is flooding going to do to our home, our city?"

Rain measured in feet is "looking likely", he said. "We don't know exactly where the center will go, but it's not really relevant".

  • Joey Payne