Mandatory evacuations ordered for entire South Carolina coastline ahead of Hurricane Florence
As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Southeast as a Category 4 storm, South Carolina's governor has ordered evacuations along the state's entire coastline — which could affect up to a million people.
"We know that this evacuation order is going to be inconvenient for some people," Governor Henry McMaster said at a news conference on Monday afternoon, "but we do not want to risk one life."
Schools will be closed in the affected counties and state officials will reverse lanes on four major roads leading to the coast to assist with the evacuation.
"We are not going to gamble with the lives of the people," McMaster, a Republican, said.
North and South Carolina are anticipated to bear the brunt of Florence, which the National Hurricane Center said had strengthened to a Category 3 storm. An hour later, at noon, the agency tweeted that Florence had grown again to a Category 4, with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph.
By 5 pm, the storm's winds had again increased to 140 mph, with even stronger gusts. The hurricane is expected to approach the coast of the Carolinas on Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In North Carolina, evacuations were already underway: Dare County officials issued a mandatory evacuation on Monday for Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks, and ordered more evacuations for other areas of the county beginning Tuesday morning.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also issued mandatory evacuations to begin Tuesday morning for the most low-lying, flood prone areas of the state — the Eastern Shore and a section of coast identified by officials as "Zone A."
"Where should residents of 'Zone A' evacuate to? The simplest answer is go to higher ground and inland," he said.
While the storm could weaken some before making landfall, forecasters expect it could still be a Category 3 or 4.
Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina warned residents to take the threat of the storm seriously.
"The forecast places North Carolina in the bull's-eye of Hurricane Florence, and the storm is rapidly getting stronger," he said. "When weather forecasters tell us 'life-threatening,' we know that it is serious."
North Carolina should brace for three dangers from Florence, Cooper said: coastal ocean surges, strong winds and flooding.
"All parts of the state could be affected by the storm," Cooper, a Democrat, said at a news conference Monday morning, warning that power outages could last for "a while."
McMaster and Cooper declared a state of emergency in their states, and Cooper had already activated 200 National Guard troops and asked President Donald Trump for a disaster declaration ahead of the storm so federal help can be made available as quickly as possible.
Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia also declared a state of emergency in advance.
On Sunday, South Carolina's state emergency management agency tweeted it was "preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster."
Those in Florence's path weren't wasting time on Monday. Shelves in some grocery stores in Raleigh, North Carolina, were already bare, and residents were filling up their petrol tanks.