Hurricane Florence live updates: Tens of thousands without power as forecasters warn of 'horrific nightmare' storm
“Catastrophic” flooding is expected over parts of the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center has warned, as Hurricane Florence inches closer to the US east coast, already leaving tens of thousands without power.
Heavy rain, gusting winds and rising floodwaters deluged the two states on Thursday as the massive, slow-moving storm crept westwards, threatening millions of people in its path with record rainfall and punishing surf.
Forecasters said Florence’s surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11ft of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3ft of rain.
The now Category 1 storm’s intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to 90 mph by nightfall. But that, combined with the storm’s slowing forward movement and heavy rains, had governor Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster.
As of 2am, Florence was centered about 35 miles east of Wilmington, North Carolina. Its forward movement increased slightly to 6 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended 90 miles from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles.
The “meandering” storm has been described as a “horrific nightmare” because meteorologists cannot pinpoint exactly where it will strike.
Some 1.7 million people have been ordered to evacuate from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Georgia, where governor Nathan Deal has now declared an emergency, is also thought to be in the firing line.
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In North Carolina, the storm has triggered a house fire after winds blew apart a transformer.
An update from a meteorologist in South Carolina. Reports of 100 mph winds and 30 ft offshore waves, James Hopkins says.
The National Hurricane Center says that “catastrophic” freshwater flooding is expected over portions of the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence inches closer to the US east coast.
The now Category 1 storm’s intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to 90 mph by nightfall. But that, combined with the storm’s slowing forward movement and heavy rains, had Governor Roy Cooper warning of an impending disaster.
As of 2am, Florence was centered about 35 miles east of Wilmington, North Carolina. Its forward movement increased slightly to 6 mph.
Hurricane-force winds extended 90 miles from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles.
Forecasters say the combination of a life-threatening storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.
Good morning, and welcome to The Independent‘s live coverage as Hurricane Florence threatens to deluge the Carolinas with record amounts of rainfall, threatening millions of people in its path.
We will bring you all the latest as it develops.
Forecasters warn Florence could stall just offshore for days, punishing a longer stretch of coastline before pushing inland.
“For a meandering storm, the biggest concern – as we saw with Harvey – is the huge amount rainfall,” said Chris Landsea, chief of tropical analysis and forecasting at the NHC.
“It certainly is a challenge forecasting precise impacts when its exact track won’t be known until a day in advance,” he added.
“It’s going to coming roaring up to the coast Thursday night and say ‘I’m not sure I really want to do this and I’ll just take a tour of the coast and decide where I want to go inland,”’ said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground.
The effects of the hurricane could be devastating. Experts have warned of the toxic danger posed by North Carolina’s hundreds of pork farms with their open sewage systems, while several nuclear power plants lie in the danger zone. Operators say they will shut down the plants some hours before the storm hits.
The Duke Energy company estimates that between 1 million and 3 million homes could be without power in the wake of the hurricane.
“This is a horrific nightmare storm from a meteorological perspective,” University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd said. “We’ve just never seen anything like this. This is just a strange bird.”
Donald Trump issued a stark warning on Twitter on Wednesday, telling Americans to evacuate and not to “play games with” Florence. “It’s a big one, maybe as big as they’ve seen, and tremendous amounts of water,” he added in a video posted to Twitter.
He claimed federal authorities were “fully prepared” for the hurricane, saying: “The storm will come, it will go, we want everybody to be safe. We’re fully prepared, food, medical, everything you can imagine, we are ready.
“But despite that, bad things can happen when you’re talking about a storm this size. It’s called Mother Nature, you never know. But we know, we love you all, we want you safe, get out of the storm’s way, listen to your local representatives.”
It came just days after an official report criticised the US government’s handling of the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the US territory where some 3,000 people were killed last autumn.