Published: Tue, September 11, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

Hurricane Florence strengthens to Category 4, takes aim at Carolinas

Hurricane Florence strengthens to Category 4, takes aim at Carolinas

A rapidly strengthening Hurricane Florence churned across the Atlantic on Sunday toward a possible direct hit on the U.S. Southeast late this week, triggering warnings to people up and down the coast to get their emergency kits ready, map out escape routes and fill sandbags.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say Florence rapidly intensified Monday morning to a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 130 miles per hour (195 kph).

WILMINGTON, North Carolina (CNN) - More than 1 million people on the southern East Coast of the United States faced mandatory evacuation orders as Hurricane Florence neared Category 5 strength Tuesday.

The NHC said Hurricane Florence will reach major hurricane status just before it makes landfall, with maximum sustained winds reaching 150 miles per hour.

By 5 p.m. Monday, Florence was centered about 1,170 miles (1,880 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west at 13 mph (20 kph).

The NHC predicts it could become a major hurricane by Monday and remain that way through Thursday.

Florence had reached Category 3 strength earlier Monday, but data from hurricane hunter aircraft indicate the storm is quickly getting stronger as it moves over warm Atlantic waters. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence's hurricane wind field was expected to expand over the coming days, increasing its storm surge and inland wind threats.

States of emergency were declared in the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland.

Hours before Isaac became a hurricane, Helene strengthened into one.

The first effects of what forecasters are already calling a large and extremely unsafe hurricane were already being seen on barrier islands Monday as risky rip currents and seawater flowed over the state highway. As projected paths for Florence continue to change, Gov. Henry McMaster said during an update Sunday afternoon, "What that means for us in SC is that whatever happens, we're going to have a lot of rain and a lot of wind".

Still, the latest models are modestly better for SC. However, "interests in the southeastern and mid-Atlantic states should monitor the progress of Florence", the NHC noted. One year after historic storms that ravaged the American Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico last year, officials warned not to underestimate the threat the storm poses.

In Charleston, South Carolina, the Coburg Dairy Cow landmark was removed for safekeeping from its perch atop a sign on Highway 17 on Monday, according to CNN affiliate WCIV.

More than 3.9 million homes that would cost more than a $1 trillion to rebuild are at risk from hurricanes on the U.S. Atlantic coast from ME to Florida, according to CoreLogic, a property analytics firm in Irvine, California. Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune urged people to secure their homes but said it's too early to know if evacuations will be ordered.

"Literally, they are filling buggies full of water, shopping carts full of water", Ryan Deeck, grocery department manager at a Walmart, told The Sun News.

At a Home Depot in Wilmington, North Carolina, Billy Nivens told CNN they ran out of water, plywood, generators, flashlights, propane, batteries and five-gallon gas cans by Monday afternoon.

Further to the east, forecasters are also watching hurricanes Isaac and Helene. The university said Sunday that it has issued a voluntary evacuation for students starting at midday Monday, noting classes would be cancelled.

Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line re-routed its cruise ships.

Isaac will be near the Lesser Antilles later this week and could bring impacts to parts of the Caribbean Islands during this time frame.

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