Florence’s uncertain track sows fear
Hurricane to make landfall on Saturday
• People who thought they were relatively safe from the onslaught of Hurricane Florence began boarding up and Georgia’s governor declared a state of emergency Wednesday as uncertainty over the path of the monster storm spread worry along the Southeastern U.S. coast.
Closing in with terrifying winds of 205 km/h and potentially catastrophic rain and storm surge, Florence is expected to blow ashore Saturday morning along the North Carolina-South Carolina line, the National Hurricane Center said.
While some of the computer forecasting models conflicted, the latest projections more or less showed the storm shifting southward and westward in a way that suddenly put more of South Carolina in danger and imperilled Georgia, too.
“This is a horrific nightmare storm from a meteorological perspective,” University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd said. “We’ve just never seen anything like this . ... This is just a strange bird.”
At the White House, President Donald Trump urged people to “get out of its way.”
“Don’t play games with it. It’s a big one,” he said.
With the change in the forecast, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal issued an emergency declaration for the entire state to ease regulations on trucks hauling gasoline and relief supplies, and asked people to pray for those in Florence’s path. North and South Carolina and Virginia declared emergencies earlier in the week.
As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, the Category 3 storm was centred 700 kilometres southeast of the port city of Wilmington, N.C., moving at 26 km/h, with the potential for 0.3 to almost a metre of rain in places — enough to touch off catastrophic flooding inland.
The hurricane centre’s projected track had Florence hovering off the southern North Carolina coast starting Thursday night before finally blowing ashore. That could punish a longer stretch of coastline, and for a longer period of time than previously thought.
The trend is “exceptionally bad news,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, because it “smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge.”
If some of the computer projections hold, “it’s going to come roaring up to the coast Thursday night and say, ‘I’m not sure I really want to do this, and I’ll just take a tour of the coast and decide where I want to go inland,”’ said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground forecasting service.
As of Tuesday, about 1.7 million people in North and South Carolina and Virginia were under warnings to evacuate the coast, and hurricane watches and warnings extended across an area with about 5.4 million residents. Cars and trucks full of people and belongings streamed inland.
“This is not going to be a glancing blow,” warned Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.”
Duke Energy, the country’s No. 2 power company, said Wednesday that damage from the hurricane could cut off electricity to threequarters of its four million customers in the Carolinas, and the outages could last for weeks.
For many of under evacuation orders, getting out of harm’s way has proved difficult, as airlines cancel flights and motorists have a hard time finding gas.
Michelle Stober loaded up valuables at her home on Wrightsville Beach to drive back to her primary residence in Cary, N.C.
“This morning I drove around for an hour looking for gas in Cary. Everyone was sold out,” she said.
On the coast in Wilmington, people were waiting in line for an hour or more at a Home Depot store to get lumber to board up their homes.
Mickey and Diane Manes were loading a half-dozen long plywood boards into their pickup. “We’ve been through about three hurricanes and we never boarded up the windows, but this time we are,” he said.
Trump said yesterday that the U.S. government is ready for Florence, but his assertion that the federal response to Hurricane Maria last September was “an incredible, unsung success” fell flat in Puerto Rico, where islanders are still struggling to recover.
An estimated 2,975 people died in the storm’s aftermath when medical resources were strained beyond the breaking point, and for many, Trump’s boast was hard to square with their daily reality.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz tweeted that if Trump “thinks the death of 3,000 people (is) a success God help us all.”
THIS IS GOING TO BE A MIKE TYSON PUNCH TOTHE CAROLINA COAST.
In this satellite image provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Florence churns through the Atlantic Ocean toward the U.S. East Coast on Wednesday.