Hurricane Florence reaches category 4 on way to US Coast

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Hurricane Florence, now a category 4, is on track to hit the US East Coast early Thursday with torrential rains, powerful winds and potentially devastating flooding.
Boarded up houses are seen ahead of Hurricane Florence's expected landfall, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, US, on Sept 10, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

(BLOOMBERG) - Hurricane Florence's top winds hit 130 miles (209 kilometres) per hour to become a Category 4 storm, one step below the most severe level, as it pushed toward the US East Coast, where mandatory evacuation orders went into effect.

Parts of North Carolina's Outer Banks were ordered evacuated at noon, and more are set Tuesday (Sept 11) for other areas of the state.

Florence could cause as much as US$27 billion (S$37 billion) in losses to homes, businesses, agriculture and tourism. It's already impacting markets, affecting the shares of trucking companies and home-improvement retailers, and prices for hogs and cotton.

Landfall may come Friday (Sept 14) somewhere between Charleston, South Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia, according to the US National Hurricane Centre.

If Florence maintains its ferocity, it would be the first Category 4 hurricane to hit the area since Hugo landed near Charleston in 1989, with a 20-foot high storm surge.

Storms of that size usually veer away from the US, according to Phil Klotzbach, a Colorado State University hurricane researcher.

"The track that Florence is taking is very atypical," he said in an e-mail. "There's just a really strong ridge building over the top of Florence that is going to drive it westward and also give it a remarkably favourable environment for strengthening."

Only three storms have reached this far north with winds reaching 150 miles-per-hour, Klotzbach said.

The Hurricane Center has been warning of "increasing risk of life-threatening impacts from
Florence," which is about 575 miles southeast of Bermuda, according to an advisory at 12pm New York time.

The storm has spurred a broad range of reactions. The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia have declared emergencies. Natural gas demand in the US Southeast may be cut by as much as half.

Ports in the region are stowing empty containers and preparing to shift to generator power if needed for refrigeration.

Shares of Home Dept Inc. and Lowe's Cos. are climbing amid expectations that demand will increase, while cement companies are down on concern that sales will slide.

Further east, forecasters are watching hurricanes Helene, which will probably head into the open Atlantic, and Isaac, which could hit the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles Islands Thursday and potentially brush Puerto Rico.

Some forecasts call for Florence to stall out after it strikes the coast. That would mean more flooding rains across a large part of the US South, expanding the damage, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.

"A big question on this track is how intense the storm remains over the Research Triangle area of North Carolina - Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill," Watson said.

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