South Carolina on Monday ordered an estimated one million people to evacuate its coast as the state and neighboring North Carolina brace for a hit from Hurricane Florence, the most powerful storm to take aim at the U.S. mainland this year.
The storm had winds of 130 miles per hour (209 kph) and was due to gain strength before making landfall, which the U.S. National Hurricane Center said was likely to occur early Thursday, bringing heavy rain that could cause severe flooding through the region.
“We do not want to risk one South Carolina life in this hurricane,” Governor Henry McMaster said at a news conference.
He estimated about 1 million people would be fleeing the coast.
In North Carolina, officials already had ordered some 250,000 residents and visitors to begin evacuating the Outer Banks barrier islands.
“We are in the bull’s eye,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference. “This is going to be a statewide event.”
By 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) on Monday, Florence was about 1,240 miles (2,000 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and was a Category 4, the second-strongest on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the NHC said.
Several airlines were waiving change fees for travelers scheduled to fly to airports in the expected path of Hurricane Florence.
It was likely that all big U.S. carriers flying to the region would add their own waivers, though several big carriers had yet to do so.
Scroll down for the latest airline change-fee waivers that were in place as of 1:45 p.m. ET on Monday Sept. 10.
Some airlines also had waived fees for Hurricane Isaac in the Caribbean and Tropical Storm Olivia in the Pacific near Hawaii.
President Trump: “The Storms in the Atlantic are very dangerous. We encourage anyone in the path of these storms to prepare themselves and to heed the warnings of State and Local officials. The Federal Government is closely monitoring and ready to assist. We are with you!”
President Trump: “To the incredible citizens of North Carolina, South Carolina and the entire East Coast – the storm looks very bad! Please take all necessary precautions. We have already began mobilizing our assets to respond accordingly, and we are here for you!”
EARLIER : Category 4 Hurricane Florence Eyes U.S. East Coast
Hurricane Florence grew stronger as it barreled toward the U.S. Southeast coast Monday, rapidly intensifying into a Category 4 storm as officials from Virginia to Florida warned residents to prepare for a potentially devastating hit.
In addition to a storm surge and winds, the National Hurricane Center says:
“Life-threatening freshwater flooding is likely from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event, which may extend inland over the Carolinas and Mid Atlantic for hundreds of miles as Florence is expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland.”
Only an hour earlier, the National Hurricane Center said Florence had strengthened into a Category 3 storm. But the agency then tweeted at noon Florence had grown again to a Category 4, with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph.
Florence is currently 575 miles south-southeast of Bermuda and about 1,230 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving west at 13 mph.
North and South Carolina are anticipated to bear the brunt, according to forecasters. 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.
Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C., 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 island flooding.
“All parts of the state could be affected by the storm,” Cooper said at a press conference on Monday morning, warning that power outages could last for “awhile.”
Cooper added that he has 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 to North Carolina as quickly as possible.
Cooper declared a state of emergency for North Carolina over the weekend. The governors of South Carolina and Virginia also declared states 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.”
The hurricane is expected to approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Florence is one of three hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, along with Helene and Isaac. Of the two other storms, which remain far from land, Isaac poses the most immediate risk. With winds of 75 mph, it’s expected to strengthen a bit before weakening as it approaches the Lesser Antilles on Thursday and Friday.
Dangerous storms are also threatening parts of the U.S. in the Pacific Ocean. Most of the state of Hawaii was under either a tropical storm warning or watch on Monday morning, as Hurricane Olivia bears westward, with 85 mph winds.
Olivia could weaken into a strong tropical storm within 48 hours, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu. But forecasters say residents should still beware of the chance for dangerous flooding and wind.
In Guam, Typhoon Mangkhut — a Category 4 storm — narrowly missed dealing a direct blow to the island.
As Florence gathered strength far out in the Atlantic, Wall Street was trying to pick winners and losers from any havoc it might cause.
Shares of companies seen benefiting from the storm preparation and repair effort were broadly higher, including generator maker Generac Holdings Inc (GNRC.N), building materials maker Owens Corning (OC.N), and roofing supplier Beacon Roofing Supply Inc (BECN.O), which were up between 4 percent and 7 percent. Retailers Lowe’s Companies Inc (LOW.N) and Home Depot Inc (HD.N) gained nearly 2 percent.
On the downside, several insurers seen vulnerable to potential claims losses slipped, led by a 2.5 percent drop in Allstate Corp (ALL.N) and a 2.3 percent decline in Travelers Companies Inc (TRV.N).
Image : Hurricane Florence is expected to hit the southeastern U.S. coast as a major hurricane on Thursday or Friday, after rapidly intensifying – National Weather Service