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By Ernest Scheyder
WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters)

Hurricane Florence, on track to become the first Category 4 storm to make a direct hit on North Carolina in six decades, howled closer to shore on Tuesday, threatening to unleash deadly pounding surf, days of torrential rain and severe flooding

Fierce winds and massive waves are expected to lash the coasts of North and South Carolina and Virginia even before Florence makes landfall by early Friday, bringing a storm surge as much as 13 feet (4 meters), the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned. Catastrophic floods could follow if the storm stalls inland, it said.

 

NASA handout photo of Hurricane Florence churning in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States
Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

 

Although Florence was still days from arrival, authorities took extraordinary measures to move people out of harm’s way. More than 1 million residents have been ordered to evacuate from the coastline of the three states, while university campuses, schools and factories were being shuttered.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed ports in Wilmington and Morehead City, North Carolina and Hampton Roads, Virginia to inbound vessels greater than 500 tons and was requiring vessels of that size to leave if they did not have permission to be in the ports.

 

 

Packing maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (225 km per hour), the storm ranked as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale and was expected to grow stronger and larger over the next few days, the NHC said.

“This storm is a monster,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said. “Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”

 

The Surfside Beach Pier which still shows some of the damage from 2016 during Hurricane Matthew is pictured ahead of Hurricane Florence in Surfside Beach, South Carolina
The Surfside Beach Pier which still shows some of the damage from 2016 during Hurricane Matthew is pictured ahead of Hurricane Florence in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. Picture taken with long exposure. REUTERS/Randall Hill

 

He cited forecasts showing Florence was likely to stall over North Carolina, “bringing days and days of rain.”

To hasten evacuations from coastal South Carolina, officials reversed the flow of traffic on some highways so all major roads led away from shore.

 

A view shows Ocean Boulevard empty of tourists after mandatory evacuations were declared for South Carolina coastal areas ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
A view shows Ocean Boulevard empty of tourists after mandatory evacuations were declared for South Carolina coastal areas ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

 

Kathleen O’Neal, a resident of Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Barrier Islands, said she, her husband and son would ride out the storm. “A lot of local people are staying,” she said of the island, which is reachable only by ferry or plane.

 

LONG-TERM POWER OUTAGES POSSIBLE

Maps of Florence’s trajectory showed its centre most likely to strike the southern coast of North Carolina. The last Category 4 hurricane to plough directly into North Carolina was Hazel in 1954, a devastating storm that killed 19 people and destroyed some 15,000 homes.

 

A bar at Ocean Boulevard is pictured boarded up after mandatory evacuations were declared for South Carolina coastal areas ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
A bar at Ocean Boulevard is pictured boarded up after mandatory evacuations were declared for South Carolina coastal areas ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

 

NHC forecasts showed the effects of Florence would be widely felt, with tropical storm-force winds extending nearly 300 miles across three states. A hurricane warning was posted for most of the Carolina coast north to the Virginia border.

In addition to wind-driven storm surges of seawater, Florence could dump up to 35 inches (89 cm) in some spots as it moves inland, forecasters said.

 

A U.S. Navy handout photo of sailors casting off mooring lines to the Command hospital ship USNS Comfort as the ship evacuates Naval Station Norfolk in preparation for Hurricane Florence in Norfolk
Sailors cast off mooring lines to the Command hospital ship USNS Comfort as the ship evacuates Naval Station Norfolk in preparation for Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2018. Jennifer Hunt/US Navy/Handout via REUTERS

 

Communities in Florence’s path could lose electricity for weeks due to downed power lines and flooded equipment, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long said.

Utilities deployed crews and gear in advance, with workers en route to the region from at least 15 states, according to trade group, the Edison Electric Institute.

 

A U.S. Navy handout photo of a sailor heaving line in preparation ahead of Hurricane Florence in Norfolk
A sailor heaves line in preparation ahead of Hurricane Florence at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2018. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert/US Navy/Handout via REUTERS

 

Crews also prepared 16 nuclear reactors in the three-state region for the storm. One power station, Duke Energy Corp’s Brunswick plant, the closest to the area where landfall is forecast, faced a likely shutdown as a precaution. Shutdowns also were possible at two more plants in the path of predicted hurricane-force winds.

The American Red Cross said more than 700 workers were headed to the region while shelters were set up to house those unable to flee. A hospital in Hampton, Virginia, was transferring patients to safer places.

 

South Carolina Army National Guard soldiers prepare recovery equipment to provide support for disabled vehicles
South Carolina Army National Guard soldiers prepare recovery equipment to provide support for disabled vehicles during the evacuation lane reversal of I-26 in North Charleston, South Carolina, September 11, 2018. U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Brian Calhoun/Handout via REUTERS

 

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, freeing up federal resources for storm response.

“We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared,” Trump said at the White House.

 

John Muchmore helps carrying hurricane shutters at the Afterdeck condos ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Garden City Beach
John Muchmore helps carrying hurricane shutters at the Afterdeck condos ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

 

Trump faced severe criticism for his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria last year in Puerto Rico. Some 3,000 people died in the aftermath of that storm.

 

COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS

Days before its arrival, Florence was already disrupting commercial operations.

Boeing Co suspended work on Tuesday at the South Carolina plant where it assembles 787 widebody jetliners, and a Volvo automobile plant in South Carolina’s evacuation zone was also closed, company officials said.

 

People evacuating coastal areas use all lanes to drive westbound on the Interstate 26 near Orangeburg
Police officers are seen keeping an eye on traffic at an onramp to Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

 

Smithfield Foods Inc said it would shut down the world’s largest hog-slaughtering facility in Tar Heel, North Carolina, on Thursday and Friday due to the hurricane.

Residents prepared by boarding up their homes and stocking up on food, water and other essentials, stripping grocery store shelves of merchandise. Many gasoline stations were running low on fuel.

 

People evacuating coastal areas use all lanes to drive westbound on the Interstate 26 near Orangeburg
A South Carolina State Trooper is seen talking to a motorist as she stopped alongside Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

 

“I’m scared we’ll get 30 inches or more of rain,” said Carol Trojniar, 69, a longtime Wilmington resident and retired real estate agent who has never experienced a Category 4 hurricane. “What is flooding going to do to our home, our city?”

 

People evacuating coastal areas use all lanes to drive westbound on the Interstate 26 near Orangeburg
Orange traffic cones with the words “Hurricane” and “Evacuation” are seen ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

 

Trojniar said she and her husband were packing up belongings and plan to stack sandbags around their single-floor home in Wilmington’s eerily named Landfall neighbourhood near the ocean before checking into a hotel to ride out the storm, with plenty of wine.

“Where else can we go? If we try to leave, we’ll just get stuck in the rain,” she said.

 

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Holden Beach, North Carolina, Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Liz Hampton in Houston, Susan Heavey in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Scott DiSavino and Alden Bentley in New York, Nichola Groom and Alex Dobzinskis in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Zieminski, Bill Trott and Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Lisa Shumaker and Michael Perry)

 

NASA handout photo of Hurricane Florence churning in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States
Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

 

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