Storm’s un­cer­tain track sows fear

The Star Democrat - - FRONT PAGE - By JEF­FREY COLLINS As­so­ci­ated Press

MYR­TLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — Hurricane Florence put a cor­ri­dor of more than 10 mil­lion peo­ple in the crosshairs Wed­nes­day as the mon­ster storm closed in on the Caroli­nas, un­cer­tainty over its pro­jected path spread­ing worry across a widen­ing swath of the South­east.

Faced with new fore­casts that showed a more southerly threat, Ge­or­gia’s gov­er­nor joined his coun­ter­parts in Vir­ginia and North and South Carolina in declar­ing a state of emer­gency, and some res­i­dents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes.

The Na­tional Hurricane Cen­ter’s best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Fri­day af­ter­noon around the North Caroli­naSouth Carolina line, then push its rainy way west­ward with a po­ten­tial for cat­a­strophic in­land flood­ing.

Florence’s winds in the af­ter­noon were down to 120 mph (195 kph) from a high of 140 mph (225 kph), and the Cat­e­gory 4 storm fell to a Cat­e­gory 3, with a fur­ther slow weak­en­ing ex­pected as the storm nears the coast. But au­thor­i­ties warned it will still be an ex­tremely dan­ger­ous hurricane.

“Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a ce­ment truck?” said Jeff Byard, an ad­min­is­tra­tor with the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

Trop­i­cal storm-force winds ex­tended 195 miles (315 kilo­me­ters) from Florence’s cen­ter, and hurricane-force winds reached out 70 miles (110 kilo­me­ters).

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said 5.25 mil­lion peo­ple live in ar­eas un­der hurricane warn­ings or watches, and 4.9 mil­lion live in places cov­ered by trop­i­cal storm warn­ings or watches.

At the White House, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump both touted the gov­ern­ment’s readi­ness and urged peo­ple to get out of the way of Florence.

“Don’t play games with it. It’s a big one,” he said.

As of 5 p.m., the storm was cen­tered 385 miles (615 kilo­me­ters) south­east of Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina, mov­ing north­west at 16 mph (26 kph). The hurricane cen­ter said Florence will ap­proach the coast Fri­day and linger for a while be­fore rolling ashore.

As of Tues­day, more than 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple in the Caroli­nas and Vir­ginia were warned to clear out. Air­lines had can­celed nearly 1,000 flights and count­ing. Home De­pot and Lowe’s ac­ti­vated emer­gency re­sponse cen­ters to get gen­er­a­tors, trash bags and bot­tled wa­ter to stores be­fore and af­ter the storm. The two hard­ware chains said they sent in a to­tal of around 1,100 trucks.

Duke En­ergy, the na­tion’s No. 2 power com­pany, said Florence could knock out elec­tric­ity to three-quar­ters of its 4 mil­lion cus­tomers in the Caroli­nas, and out­ages could last for weeks. Work­ers are be­ing brought in from the Mid­west and Florida to help in the storm’s af­ter­math, it said.

Board­ing up his home in Myr­tle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pen­ning­ton watched the fore­casts and tried to de­cide when to leave.

“In 12 or 18 hours, they may be say­ing dif­fer­ent things all over again,” he said.

Com­puter mod­els of ex­actly what the storm might do var­ied, adding to the un­cer­tainty. In con­trast to the hurricane cen­ter’s of­fi­cial pro­jec­tion, a highly re­garded Euro­pean model had the storm turn­ing south­ward off the North Carolina coast and com­ing ashore near the Ge­or­gia-South Carolina line.

Re­act­ing to the pos­si­bil­ity of a more southerly track, Ge­or­gia Gov. Nathan Deal de­clared an emer­gency but did not im­me­di­ately or­der any evac­u­a­tions.

“I ask all Ge­or­gians to join me in pray­ing for the safety of our peo­ple and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence,” Deal said.

The shift in the pro­jected track spread con­cern to ar­eas that once thought they were rel­a­tively safe. In South Carolina, close to the Ge­or­gia line, Beau­fort County emer­gency chief Neil Bax­ley told res­i­dents they need to pre­pare again for the worst just in case.

“We’ve had our lessons. Now it might be time for the exam,” he said.

In Vir­ginia, where about 245,000 res­i­dents were or­dered to evac­u­ate low-ly­ing ar­eas, of­fi­cials urged peo­ple to re­main away from home de­spite fore­cast changes show­ing Florence’s path largely miss­ing the state.

Their en­tire neigh­bor­hood evac­u­ated in Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina, David and Janelle Gar­ri­gus planned to ride out Florence at their daugh­ter’s one-bed­room apart­ment in Charlotte. Un­sure of what they might find when they re­turn home, the cou­ple went shop­ping for a recre­ational ve­hi­cle.

“We’re just try­ing to plan for the fu­ture here, not hav­ing a house for an ex­tended pe­riod of time,” David Gar­ri­gus said.

Melody Raw­son evac­u­ated her first-floor apart­ment in Myr­tle Beach and ar­rived at At­lanta Mo­tor Speedway in Hamp­ton, Ge­or­gia, to camp for free with three other adults, her dis­abled son, two dogs and a pet bird.

“We hope to have some­thing left when we get home,” she said.

Fore­cast­ers wor­ried the storm’s dam­age will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast. The trend is “ex­cep­tion­ally bad news,” said Univer­sity of Mi­ami hurricane re­searcher Brian McNoldy, since it “smears a land­fall out over hun­dreds of miles of coast­line, most no­tably the storm surge.”

With South Carolina’s beach towns more in the bull’s-eye be­cause of the shift­ing fore­cast, Ohio va­ca­tion­ers Chris and Ni­cole Roland put off their de­par­ture from North Myr­tle Beach to get the max­i­mum amount of time on the sand. Most other beach­go­ers were long gone.

“It’s been re­ally nice,” Ni­cole Roland said. “Also, a lit­tle creepy. You feel like you should have al­ready left.”

As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers Seth Boren­stein in Wash­ing­ton; Jonathan Drew in Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina; Jen­nifer Kay in Mi­ami; Gary Robert­son in Raleigh, North Carolina; Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Vir­ginia; Meg Kin­nard in Columbia, South Carolina; Skip Fore­man in Charlotte, North Carolina; Jeff Martin in Hamp­ton, Ge­or­gia; David Koe­ing in Dal­las; and Jay Reeves in At­lanta con­trib­uted to this re­port.

AP PHOTO/DAVID GOLDMAN

Em­mett West pulls his boat from a nearby ma­rina to se­cure it at his home ahead of Hurricane Florence in More­head City, N.C., on Tues­day, Sept. 11, 2018.

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