Ferocious Hurricane Florence: Category 4 storm expected to strengthen as 1 million flee

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With Hurricane Florence barreling to the U.S. East Coast, the commander of US Fleet Forces Command ordered all U.S. Navy ships to leave the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. (Sept. 10)
AP

Ferocious Hurricane Florence marched toward the U.S. East Coast on Tuesday, a massive storm expected to further strengthen as more than 1 million people flee the anticipated devastation.

An ominous 8 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center reported that Florence was driving maximum sustained winds of almost 130 mph, a Category 4 storm out of a possible five on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The storm had eased slightly from a few hours earlier, but the modest reprieve was not expected to last for long.

“Some strengthening is expected during the next day or so, and Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday night,” the hurricane center’s update said. A “major” hurricane is one with sustained winds of more than 110 mph. Any Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane is classified as a major hurricane.

The storm was centered more than 900 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., heading west-northwest at 15 mph. The storm was forecast to roll across the southwestern Atlantic between Bermuda and the Bahamas through Wednesday before approaching the coast of North Carolina or South Carolina on Thursday.

Florence is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 15 to 20 inches in some areas and possibly with 30 inches in isolated locations along the storm’s track over portions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

“Life-threatening” flash flooding is possible, the hurricane center warned.

More: Why mandatory evacuations don’t always chase away everybody

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More: More than 1 million to flee as Hurricane Florence rips toward East Coast

Tracker: Follow Hurricane Florence as storm barrels toward East Coast

In South Carolina alone, more than 1 million residents and tourists are expected to flee from coastal areas, Gov. Henry McMaster said Monday. 

The hurricane roared from a Category 1 (90 mph) to a Category 4 (130 mph) in just 13 hours, an extremely quick intensification, Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach said. That’s the most rapid hurricane intensification since Hurricane Humberto in 2007, he said. 

In North Carolina, officials in coastal Dare County ordered everyone to leave Hatteras Island on Monday. Residents and visitors in popular tourist spots such as Duck and Corolla faced a Tuesday deadline.

“Everyone in Dare County is encouraged to evacuate as soon as possible regardless of the established time frames,” the county announced.

Concerns about the monster storm extended even into Virginia. Gov. Ralph Northam ordered a mandatory evacuation to begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday for 245,000 people in parts of the Hampton Roads area and the Eastern shore. The evacuation zone includes the most flood-prone coastal areas, Northam said.

The hurricane center’s description of a Category 4 hurricane begins with “catastrophic damage will occur.” The center warns that such storms will snap or uproot most trees and down power poles and that power can be out in some areas for weeks or months.

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