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Hurricane Florence bears down on US east coast: 1.7 million told to flee - follow path of 'monster' storm

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 12/09/2018 Telegraph Reporters

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A monster hurricane is bearing down on the US east coast with officials warning it would hit with a "punch like Mike Tyson".

a large ship in a body of water: The USS Nitze is among those ships on standby as Hurricane Florence approaches © MC2 Justin Wolpert /US Navy The USS Nitze is among those ships on standby as Hurricane Florence approaches Hurricane Florence, left, and Helene (bottom right) as seen from space © JOSE ROMERO /AFP Hurricane Florence, left, and Helene (bottom right) as seen from space

Residents in the states of North Carolina and South Carolina were running out of time to evacuate as Hurricane Florence looked set to make landfall as soon as late Thursday, bringing potentially deadly flooding.

In a videotaped message from the White House, Donald Trump said the government was fully prepared but urged people to "get out of its way".

The US president added: "Don't play games with it. It's a big one."

a group of people walking down the street: People line up to enter a hurricane shelter at Trask Middle School in North Carolina - Credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS /AFP © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited People line up to enter a hurricane shelter at Trask Middle School in North Carolina - Credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS /AFP

A total of 1.7 million people in North and South Carolina, and Virginia, were under warnings to evacuate the coast.

Cars and trucks full of people and belongings streamed inland.

Jeff Byard of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency said: "This is not going to be a glancing blow. This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast. Heed the warnings."

Forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast of the Carolinas, carrying days of heavy rain that could bring intense inland flooding.

Parts of North Carolina could get 40 inches of rain.

The hurricane was packing winds of 130 mph and waves 83 feet high have been measured near the eye.

Brian McNoldy, a University of Miami hurricane researcher, said the hurricane was going to be "exceptionally bad news".

He said its effects, including a huge storm surge, would be spread out over hundreds of miles of coastline.

Storm tracker: Follow path of Hurricane Florence

Meanwhile, the UK Foreign Office said: "If you have planned travel to the region before 15 September, you should keep your plans under close review and be prepared to amend or postpone them.

"Hurricane Florence is forecast to bring life-threatening weather conditions to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, with potential effects in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and eastern Georgia."

The British Embassy in Washington said: "If you are in the path of the hurricane, follow the advice of local authorities, including evacuation orders."

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered as many as one million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the storm's predicted arrival on Thursday. Schools in 26 of the state's 46 counties were to close from Tuesday.

The governor of neighboring North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination, and parts of coastal Dare County, while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia.

"This is a very dangerous hurricane," Mr McMaster said, adding that the evacuation order for coastal counties was "mandatory, not voluntary".

"We do not want to risk one South Carolina life in this hurricane," the governor told reporters. "We're liable to have a whole lot of flooding."

Hours later, Mr Trump approved emergency declarations for both coastal states, a move allowing the release of federal funds and equipment to help protection and recovery efforts.

The US president said he had spoken to governors of threatened states, adding that the "federal government stands by, ready to assist 24/7".

A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence churning over the Atlantic Ocean - Credit: NASA/Reuters © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence churning over the Atlantic Ocean - Credit: NASA/Reuters

Hurricane Florence has the potential to bring catastrophic flooding to areas of the eastern United States already soaked by heavy rain and it may be the strongest storm to hit the region in decades.

A Category 4 on the five-level Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, Florence was 465 miles south-southeast of Bermuda and the centre of the hurricane was forecast to pass between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Forecasters expected some strengthening in the next 36 hours, as Florence marched west-northwest at around 13 miles per hour.

Rush on sand bags and water as storm approaches

At a hardware shop in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, store manager John Johnson said the rush on batteries, flashlights, plastic tarps and sandbags began on Friday.

"From eight o'clock 'til two we were slammed," said Johnson, who sold scores of bags of sand over the weekend, saving just a few to barricade the store's own doors. "We were non-stop."

Nurse Barbara Mack was using a small shovel to fill sandbags at a public works facility in Charleston, but she saw a silver lining in the hurricane preparations.

"This is probably the only exercise I get this week," she said.

Residents of the Isle of Palms stocking up on bottled water in preparation for Hurricane Florence - Credit: Mic Smith/FR2 AP © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Residents of the Isle of Palms stocking up on bottled water in preparation for Hurricane Florence - Credit: Mic Smith/FR2 AP

Also out for sandbags was Deborah LaRoche. Half her supply was going to barricade a basement soup kitchen she manages and the other half was going to protect her own home on nearby Johns Island.

She and her husband were yet to decide on whether or not to evacuate their family of two children and a dog, said Mrs LaRoche.

Having grown up in storm-prone Florida, she said she is careful not to underestimate any hurricane.

"It doesn't matter what happened in (previous) storms," said Mrs LaRoche, a social services director. "This one is different."

Warnings of 'catastrophic' flooding, high winds and widespread power outages

On its current track, Florence is expected to hit the Carolinas and Virginia the hardest, the NHS said.

"Don't concentrate on the exact forecast track of Hurricane Florence," the National Weather Service warned.

"Significant effects will extend outside the cone, and will arrive at the coast sooner than the eye."

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's office predicted "catastrophic inland flooding, high winds and possible widespread power outages", cautioning that the deadliest risk would come from flooding.

The US Navy said it was preparing to send about 30 ships stationed in Virginia out to sea.

The vessels will get under way from Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek to avoid potential damage from winds and tidal surges, said Colonel Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman.

a large ship in a body of water: The USS Nitze is among those ships on standby as Hurricane Florence approaches - Credit: MC2 Justin Wolpert /US Navy © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited The USS Nitze is among those ships on standby as Hurricane Florence approaches - Credit: MC2 Justin Wolpert /US Navy

Heavy rain in the Washington area over the weekend has already led to flooding in historic Alexandria, Virginia, and the National Weather Service issued a flood watch for part of the Potomac River.

Helene and Isaac follow on heels of Florence

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's office said that Florence is already being felt along the state's coast, with large sea swells resulting in life-threatening rip currents and surf.

"This is a huge storm," said Robert Woodward, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, predicting 15 to 20 inches (38 to 50 centimeters) of rain.

Hurricane Florence, left, and tropical storm Helene as seen from space - Credit: JOSE ROMERO /AFP © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Hurricane Florence, left, and tropical storm Helene as seen from space - Credit: JOSE ROMERO /AFP

"Never have we seen quite this type of a storm approach us."

At this height of the Atlantic hurricane season, Florence was being trailed on east-to-west paths by two other storms, Helene and Isaac.

Helene - 535 miles west of the Cape Verde islands off the African coast - had winds up to 110 miles per hour, and was expected to continue moving west-northwest for several more days, the NHC said.

Isaac - which late on Sunday became the fifth hurricane of the season, but was later downgraded to a tropical storm - is heading west toward the Caribbean.

a screenshot of a cell phone: At a glance | Atlantic hurricanes © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited At a glance | Atlantic hurricanes

Despite the slight drop in maximum sustained winds to 70 miles per hour, Isaac was expected to be at or near hurricane-strength as it passes near land later this week.

The storm was about 960 miles east of the Lesser Antilles - a region still recovering from last year's powerful Hurricane Maria.

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