More than 1 million people along the Carolina coast fled toward higher ground on Monday, September 10 in a mass evacuation ordered three days before the expected arrival of Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm and the most powerful to menace the region in nearly three decades.
With maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (220 kph), Florence was due to grow even stronger before making landfall on Thursday, mostly likely in southeastern North Carolina near the South Carolina border, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Authorities also warned of life-threatening coastal storm surges and the potential for Florence to unleash prolonged torrential rains and widespread flooding across several states, especially if it lingers inland for several days.
“Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday,” the NHC said in its latest bulletin. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference his state was in “the bull’s eye.”
Cooper and his counterparts in South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland all declared states of emergency.
Mindful of devastation wrought by a string of deadly U.S. hurricanes last year, jittery residents in the Carolinas began the rituals of disaster preparation - boarding up windows and stocking up on groceries, water and gasoline.
Classified as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, Florence stood as the most severe storm to threaten the U.S. mainland this year and the first of its magnitude to take aim at the Carolinas since 1989, when Hurricane Hugo barreled over Charleston, South Carolina.
As a precaution against Florence, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered an estimated 1 million coastal residents in his state to move inland. Mandatory evacuation orders also were issued for more than 50,000 people from Hatteras and Ocracoke, the southernmost of North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier islands.
At least 250,000 more were due to be evacuated from the northern Outer Banks on Tuesday, along with some coastal Virginia residents.
Emergency management officials reported waves already starting to crash over Hatteras Island’s main highway where dunes were breached by heavy surf, slowing traffic to a crawl.
“Traffic was backed up for about 9 miles (14 km) in places,” said Paul Jones, a retiree who owns a home on the island.