HOLDEN BEACH (North Carolina) • More than 1.5 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes along the US south-east coast as Hurricane Florence, the most powerful to menace North and South Carolina in nearly three decades, barrelled closer yesterday.
Florence, a Category 4 storm packing winds of 210kmh, is expected to make landfall on Friday, most likely in south-eastern North Carolina near the South Carolina border, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami said.
Residents boarded up their homes and stripped grocery stores bare of food, water and supplies. Officials in South Carolina prepared to reverse lanes on major roadways to speed the evacuation of the coast.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster evoked the memory of 1989's Hurricane Hugo, which killed 27 people in the state, in urging people to obey his evacuation order. "We want people to get out and get safe," Mr McMaster told ABC's Good Morning America yesterday morning.
The storm was located about 1,530km east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 5am local time (5pm Singapore), according to the NHC, which warned that it would be "an extremely dangerous major hurricane" tomorrow night.
In addition to flooding the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 3.7m, Florence could drop as much as 76cm of rain in places, posing the risk of deadly flooding inland, forecasters said.
They warned that the storm could linger for days after making landfall.
Florence appeared to have weakened slightly but was expected to restrengthen later yesterday, the NHC said.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an evacuation order for about 245,000 residents in flood-prone coastal areas, and South Carolina's Mr McMaster ordered about one million residents along his state's coastline to leave.
At least 250,000 more people were due to be evacuated from the northern Outer Banks in North Carolina yesterday 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.
On North Carolina's Ocracoke Island, part of the Outer Banks, Mr Tom Pahl, 66, said he was getting ready to board up his house. "We haven't plywooded our house for several years but I am (doing it) for this one," he said by phone.
Classified as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, Florence was the most severe storm to threaten the US mainland this year.
The US was hit with a series of high-powered hurricanes last year, including Hurricane Maria, which killed about 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, and Hurricane Harvey, which killed 68 people and caused an estimated US$1.25 billion (S$1.7 billion) in damage.