Wednesday, 17 October, 2018

4 dead as Hurricane Florence drenches the Carolinas

This image provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on Wednesday Sept. 12 2018.
NASA via AP This image provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on Wednesday Sept. 12 2018. NASA via AP
Guillermo Lane | 17 September, 2018, 01:04

The outer edge of Hurricane Florence began buffeting the Carolinas with wind and rain on Thursday as forecasters warned the monster storm would trigger life-threatening flooding as it assaults the U.S. east coast.

By Friday evening, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm, its winds weakened to 70 mph (112 kph) as it moved forward at 3 mph (6 kph) about 15 miles (25 kilometers) north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) says that despite the gradual lowering in wind strength, the storm remains extremely risky because of the high volume of rainfall and storm surges predicted.

National Weather Service Though Hurricane Florence was downgraded to a category 2 hurricane, it's still caused storm surges up to 10 feet in some areas, with the worst of the flooding still expected to come.

Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour (225 kph), the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.

As a Category 3 and 4 storm, Florence has been pushing massive waves toward the East Coast for days, creating the momentum for a pile of ocean water to infiltrate inland.

The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a year ago.

The state's officials say more than 400,000 people have evacuated the coast and more than 4000 people have taken refuge in shelters as the storm approaches.

Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but reconsidered due to its ferocity. "Catastrophic effects will be felt".

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Winds were already picking up along the coastline early Thursday and some minor flooding was reported on the Outer Banks, barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, and in some seaside coastal towns.

And in Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain began to fall as gusts of winds intensified, causing trees to sway and stoplights to flicker.

Avair Vereen, 39, took her seven children to a shelter in Conway High School near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "Gracious heavenly father God, just with those in the flood zone, may the damage not be so much", they prayed. "I've got four cats inside the house. But can't replace us, so we chose to come here", said the 39-year-old.

At 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), the hurricane center said Florence had maximum sustained winds near 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour) and continued to produce catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas. It was forecast to make landfall on Friday morning or afternoon near Cape Fear, North Carolina, bringing up to 40 inches (1 meter) of rain in places.

Along North Carolina's Pamlico River, the area is bracing for a storm surge of up to 13 feet, and all low-lying and flood-prone areas are under mandatory-evacuation orders. Isolated tornadoes may also be included in the wide-range of impacts the storm will have.

Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it's unclear how many did. "Florence will then recurve across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week". But officials warned that Florence still remained life-threatening, and a state of emergency was declared ahead of the storm making landfall in the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia.

"The shelters are not taking dogs", Ramirez said.

"And from that point, we started hearing where people were saying on phone calls, 'I love you, ' to their family members because they were not sure they were going to get out of it alive", she said Friday. "I learned from the past to keep the ice in the washing machine".

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