Mon­ster Hur­ri­cane Florence nears Carolina coast

Financial Chronicle - - AROUND THE GLOBE - JONATHAN DREW

COASTAL res­i­dents flee­ing a po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing blow from Hur­ri­cane Florence en­coun­tered empty gaso­line pumps and de­pleted store shelves as the mon­ster storm neared the Carolina coast with 140 mph (225 kph) winds and drench­ing rain that could last for days.

While some said they planned to stay put de­spite hur­ri­cane watches and warn­ings that include the homes of more than 5.4 mil­lion people on the East Coast, many weren't tak­ing any chances.

Steady streams of ve­hi­cles full of people and be­long­ings flowed in­land Tues­day as Gov. Roy Cooper tried to con­vince ev­ery­one on North Carolina's coast to flee.

“The waves and the wind this storm may bring is noth­ing like you've ever seen. Even if you've rid­den out storms be­fore, this one is dif­fer­ent. Don't bet your life on rid­ing out a mon­ster,” he said.

Fore­cast­ers said Florence was ex­pected to blow ashore late Thurs­day or early Fri­day, then slow down and dump a tor­ren­tial 1 to 2½ feet (0.3 to 0.6 me­ters) of rain. Flood­ing well in­land could wreak en­vi­ron­men­tal havoc by wash­ing over in­dus­trial waste sites and hog farms.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared states of emer­gency for North and South Carolina and Vir­ginia, open­ing the way for fed­eral aid. He said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is “ab­so­lutely, to­tally pre­pared” for Florence.

All three states or­dered mass evac­u­a­tions along the coast. But get­ting out of harm's way has proved dif­fi­cult.

Amer­i­can and South­west Air­lines were among the car­ri­ers can­cel­ing flights to and from the hur­ri­cane zone start­ing Wed­nes­day. Charleston In­ter­na­tional Air­port in South Carolina tweeted that it ex­pected to close run­ways by mid­night Wed­nes­day.

Michelle Sto­ber loaded up valu­ables on Tues­day at her home on Wrightsville Beach to drive back to her pri­mary res­i­dence in Cary, North Carolina. Find­ing fuel for the jour­ney was tough.

“This morn­ing I drove around for an hour look­ing for gas in Cary. Ev­ery­one was sold out,” she said.

Florence is so wide that a life-threat­en­ing storm surge was be­ing pushed 300 miles (485 kilo­me­ters) 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 am, the storm was cen­tered 575 miles (925 kilo­me­ters) south­east of Cape Fear, North Carolina, mov­ing at 17 mph (28 kph). 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 (253 kph) 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 (2.75 me­ters) 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 (50 cen­time­ters) of rain, if not more, with as much as 10 inches (25 cen­time­ters) else­where in the state and in Vir­ginia, parts of Mary­land and Wash­ing­ton, DC.

One trusted com­puter model, the Euro­pean sim­u­la­tion, pre­dicted more than 45 inches (115 cen­time­ters) 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 (150 cen­time­ters) 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.

A worker cov­ers a win­dow at Charleston City Hall in Charleston, SC, in prepa­ra­tion for the ad­vanc­ing Hur­ri­cane Florence Tues­day

This im­age pro­vided by NOAA shows Hur­ri­cane Florence, third from right, on Tues­day, Sept. 11, 2018, as it threat­ens the US East Coast. At right is Hur­ri­cane He­lene, and sec­ond from right is Trop­i­cal Storm Isaac

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