Hurricane Florence

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

‘Monster’ Hurricane Florence Continues To Grow Stronger, Closes In On Carolinas

September 12, 2018 - 6:50 am

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WCBS 880/AP) — Millions of residents in the Carolinas are evacuating their homes Wednesday, as Hurricane Florence approaches with 140 mph winds and potentially ruinous rains.

WCBS 880’s Chief Meteorologist Craig Allen said as of late Tuesday, Florence was less than 800 miles from Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving west-northwest at about 15 to 17 mph.

Florence, which could possibly strengthen to near Category 5, is expected to make a direct hit in the northernmost part of South Carolina and North Carolina by late Thursday or early Friday.

The storm will then slow down and wring itself out for days, unloading 1 to 2½ feet of rain that could cause flooding well inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

The Red Cross of Greater New York is sending a team of employees and volunteers to the Carolinas to help out ahead of the storm.

A team of 22 Red Cross employees and volunteers left for the area Wednesday morning to prepare shelters.

“It’s all about being there for the people who need to be evacuated, and then once the storm passes, will they need us there any longer – and the hope is no,” said Debbie Hayden, of Garden City.

Hayden has volunteered to assist in dozens of disasters, including Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy.

“Unfortunately, you and I both know that Hurricanes of this magnitude leave destruction in their path, and there will be people, will have a home that is destroyed or damage

On Tuesday, a team of emergency responders that make up FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue New York Task Force 1 deployed to North Carolina. The team brought eight water rescue boats and materials to help retrieve people from collapsed structures or confined spaces.

"This storm is a monster. It's big and it's vicious. It is an extremely, dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.

President Donald Trump declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina and Virginia, opening the way for federal aid. 

“We are sparing no expense," Trump said. "We are totally prepared. We are ready. We are ready as we’ve ever been.”

North and South Carolina and Virginia ordered mass evacuations along the coast. But getting out of harm's way could prove difficult.

While New Jersey isn’t expected to be hit by the storm, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has decided to take a "better safe than sorry" approach.

He urged residents to “prepare for the worst” and warned that the remnants of the storm will likely leave the state with heavy winds and rains through the end of the week.

The governor said south Jersey — especially Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem counties – could “feel the most impact.”

As WCBS 880's Steve Burns reported Tuesday, emergency equipment is being staged, and gas stations along the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway are stocking up.

“Hopefully, we’re only going to be dealt a glancing blow,” Murphy said. “Hopefully, we’ll look back and say this was an abundance of caution.”

Florence is so wide that a life-threatening storm surge was being pushed 300 miles ahead of its eye, and so wet that a swath from South Carolina to Ohio and Pennsylvania could get deluged.

People across the region rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies, board up their homes, pull their boats out of the water and get out of town.

Long lines formed at service stations, and some started running out of gas as far west as Raleigh, with bright yellow bags, signs or rags placed over the pumps to show they were out of order. Some store shelves were picked clean.

"There's no water. There's no juices. There's no canned goods," Kristin Harrington said as she shopped at a Walmart in Wilmington.

People weren't the only ones evacuating. Eight dogs and 18 cats from a shelter in Norfolk, Virginia, were sent to two shelters in Washington to make room for pets expected to be displaced by the hurricane.

At 5 a.m., the storm was centered 575 miles southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 17 mph. It was a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm but was expected to keep drawing energy from the warm water and intensify to near Category 5, which means winds of 157 mph or higher.

Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Isaac was east of the Lesser Antilles and expected to pass south of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba, while Hurricane Helene was moving northward away from land. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.

The coastal surge from Florence could leave the eastern tip of North Carolina under more than 9 feet of water in spots, projections showed.

"This one really scares me," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said.

Federal officials begged residents to put together emergency kits and have a plan on where to go.

"This storm is going to knock out power days into weeks. It's going to destroy infrastructure. It's going to destroy homes," said Jeff Byard, an official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Forecasters said parts of North Carolina could get 20 inches of rain, if not more, with as much as 10 inches elsewhere in the state and in Virginia, parts of Maryland and Washington, D.C.

One trusted computer model, the European simulation, predicted more than 45 inches in parts of North Carolina. A year ago, people would have laughed off such a forecast, but the European model was accurate in predicting 60 inches for Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, so "you start to wonder what these models know that we don't," University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy said.

Rain measured in feet is "looking likely," he said.

Florence's projected path includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in huge lagoons.

Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said operators would begin shutting down nuclear plants at least two hours before hurricane-force winds arrive.

North Carolina's governor issued what he called a first-of-its-kind mandatory evacuation order for all of North Carolina's fragile barrier islands. Typically, local governments in the state make the call on evacuations.

"We've seen nor'easters and we've seen hurricanes before," Cooper said, "but this one is different."

Despite all that, 65-year-old Liz Browning Fox plans to ride the storm out in the Outer Banks village of Buxton, North Carolina, despite a mandatory evacuation order. Her 88-year-old mother refused to evacuate and will stay with her.

"Everyone who is staying here is either a real old-timer, someone who doesn't know where would be better, or someone involved in emergency operations one way or another," said Fox.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)