Hurricane Florence could strengthen as millions are ordered to evacuate

Hurricane Florence is expected to strengthen to Category 5 status on Tuesday with more than 1.5 million people ordered to evacuate as the powerful storm barrels towards North and South Carolina.

Currently carrying winds of up to 140 mph as a Category 4 storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to approach Category 5 status later on Tuesday as it slows and strengthens off the US Atlantic coast.

The National Hurricane Center expects Florence to turn into ‘an extremely dangerous major hurricane’ on Thursday night before making landfall, mostly likely in southeastern North Carolina near the South Carolina border.

More than 1.5 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes in preparation for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades. 

Hurricane Florence is expected to strengthen to Category 5 status on Tuesday with more than 1.5 million people ordered to evacuate as the powerful storm barrels towards North and South Carolina

Hurricane Florence is expected to strengthen to Category 5 status on Tuesday with more than 1.5 million people ordered to evacuate as the powerful storm barrels towards North and South Carolina

Hurricane Florence is expected to strengthen to Category 5 status on Tuesday with more than 1.5 million people ordered to evacuate as the powerful storm barrels towards North and South Carolina

The National Hurricane Center expects Florence to turn into 'an extremely dangerous major hurricane' on Thursday night before making landfall, mostly likely in southeastern North Carolina

The National Hurricane Center expects Florence to turn into 'an extremely dangerous major hurricane' on Thursday night before making landfall, mostly likely in southeastern North Carolina

The National Hurricane Center expects Florence to turn into ‘an extremely dangerous major hurricane’ on Thursday night before making landfall, mostly likely in southeastern North Carolina

South Carolina’s governor ordered the state’s entire coastline evacuated starting at noon Tuesday and predicted that 1 million people would flee as highways reverse directions. 

Virginia issued a mandatory evacuation order for about 245,000 residents in flood-prone coastal areas beginning at 8am. 

At least 250,000 more people were due to be evacuated from the northern Outer Banks in North Carolina on Tuesday after more than 50,000 people were ordered on Monday to leave Hatteras and Ocracoke, the southernmost of the state’s barrier islands.  

North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland governors have declared states of emergency.

North Carolina Govenor Roy Cooper said his state is ‘in the bullseye’ and urged people to ‘get ready now’. 

The very center of that bullseye may be Camp Lejeune, the sprawling Marine Corps training base. Tuesday’s 7-day rainfall forecast showed 20 inches or more falling there, part of a wide swath of rainfall that could total ten inches or more over much of Virginia and drench the nation’s capital. 

Rob Quinn boards up Lagerheads Tavern in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina after 300,000 people were ordered to evacuate the state's coastal areas

Rob Quinn boards up Lagerheads Tavern in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina after 300,000 people were ordered to evacuate the state's coastal areas

Rob Quinn boards up Lagerheads Tavern in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina after 300,000 people were ordered to evacuate the state’s coastal areas

Walker Townsend (right) and Dalton Trout (center) fill sand bags in Isle of Palms, South Carolina on Monday as the state's entire coastline was ordered to prepare for mandatory evacuations 

Walker Townsend (right) and Dalton Trout (center) fill sand bags in Isle of Palms, South Carolina on Monday as the state's entire coastline was ordered to prepare for mandatory evacuations 

Walker Townsend (right) and Dalton Trout (center) fill sand bags in Isle of Palms, South Carolina on Monday as the state’s entire coastline was ordered to prepare for mandatory evacuations 

Florence could hit the Carolinas harder than any hurricane since Hazel packed 130 mph winds in 1954. That Category 4 storm destroyed 15,000 buildings and 19 people in North Carolina. In the six decades since then, many thousands of people have moved to the coast.

The storm’s first effects were already apparent on barrier islands as dangerous rip currents hit beaches and seawater flowed over a state highway – the harbinger of a storm surge that could wipe out dunes and submerge entire communities.

For many people, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl just off the coast, it could bring torrential rains all the way into the Appalachian mountains and as far away as West Virginia, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous conditions in places that don’t usually get much tropical weather.

‘This is going to produce heavy rainfall, and it may not move very fast. The threat will be inland, so I’m afraid, based on my experience at FEMA, that the public probably not as prepared as everybody would like,’ said Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham also warned that Florence is expected to linger once onshore, downing trees, knocking out electricity and causing widespread flooding.

Currently carrying winds of up to 140 mph as a Category 4 storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to approach Category 5 status later on Tuesday as it slows and strengthens off the US Atlantic coast

Currently carrying winds of up to 140 mph as a Category 4 storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to approach Category 5 status later on Tuesday as it slows and strengthens off the US Atlantic coast

Currently carrying winds of up to 140 mph as a Category 4 storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to approach Category 5 status later on Tuesday as it slows and strengthens off the US Atlantic coast

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The National Hurricane Center expects Florence to turn into 'an extremely dangerous major hurricane' on Thursday night before making landfall

The National Hurricane Center expects Florence to turn into 'an extremely dangerous major hurricane' on Thursday night before making landfall

The National Hurricane Center expects Florence to turn into ‘an extremely dangerous major hurricane’ on Thursday night before making landfall

North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland governors have declared states of emergency

North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland governors have declared states of emergency

North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland governors have declared states of emergency

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States on Monday

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States on Monday

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States on Monday

The storm’s potential path also includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in massive open-air lagoons.

Airlines, including American, Southwest, Delta and JetBlue, have begun letting affected passengers change travel plans without the usual fees.

A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and this area of the ocean is seeing temperatures peak near 85 degrees (30 Celsius), hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence’s hurricane-strength winds were expanding.

‘Unfortunately, the models were right. Florence has rapidly intensified into an extremely dangerous hurricane,’ Blake wrote Monday evening, predicting that the hurricane’s top sustained winds would approach the 157 mph threshold for a wost-case Category 5 scenario. Tuesday morning’s forecast still supports this, the National Hurricane Center said.

By 5am Tuesday, Florence was centered about 975 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west-northwest at 15 mph. Its center will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday.

Two other storms were spinning in the Atlantic. Hurricane Isaac was expected to lose strength as it reaches the Caribbean, and Helene, much farther out to sea, may veer northward into the open ocean as the 2018 hurricane season reaches its peak.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Olivia triggered warnings for multiple Hawaiian islands, blowing westward and expected to arrive in the state as soon as late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket as residents prepare for Florence's descent in Columbia, South Carolina

Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket as residents prepare for Florence's descent in Columbia, South Carolina

Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket as residents prepare for Florence's descent in Columbia, South Carolina

Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket as residents prepare for Florence's descent in Columbia, South Carolina

Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket as residents prepare for Florence’s descent in Columbia, South Carolina

Brian Franklin prepares more generators for sale as people buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington

Brian Franklin prepares more generators for sale as people buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington

Brian Franklin prepares more generators for sale as people buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington

Florence rapidly strengthened into a potentially catastrophic hurricane on Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina

Florence rapidly strengthened into a potentially catastrophic hurricane on Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina

Florence rapidly strengthened into a potentially catastrophic hurricane on Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina

Chris Rayner helps customers load their cars as they buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington

Chris Rayner helps customers load their cars as they buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington

Chris Rayner helps customers load their cars as they buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington

Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

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