The outer edge of Hurricane Florence began scouring the Carolina coastline Thursday, as people banded together to help evacuees find safe harbor.
Meteorologists said the leading edge of the massive storm on Thursday buffeted Cape Lookout, North Carolina, with 68 mph sustained winds that gusted to 85 mph.
Florence, with sustained winds of 100 mph, was expected to crawl ashore early Friday and creep inland, creating as much as an 11-foot surge of ocean water and delivering as much as 35 inches of rain over the next few days. Authorities warned people in low-lying areas to prepare for flooding.
A high-pressure system north of the hurricane was slowing its approach, and Florence was expected to drift at a rate of 5 mph toward Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday, and move into western parts of South Carolina by midday Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
“The time to prepare is a too late,” said Reid Hawkins, a science officer with the National Weather Service. “Now it’s just taking the brunt of the storm.”
Electricity utility Duke Energy Co., with headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, said Florence likely could knock out power for 1 million to 3 million homes and businesses.
The U.S. military evacuated Marine, Navy and Army bases in and around the storm’s path, as thousands of Red Cross disaster aid workers and emergency linemen began arriving at the Carolina coast this week.
Although Florence’s strength was downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 2, it grew in size, bringing a massive amount of rain and ocean water.
“It truly is really about the whole size of this storm,” said National Hurricane Center Director Kenneth Graham. “The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact — and we have that.”
“Don’t relax, don’t get complacent,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned. “Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality.”
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Florence was centered about 100 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, where its forward movement slowed to 5 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles from its center and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles.
Forecasters’ European climate model is predicting that 2 trillion to 11 trillion gallons of rain will fall on North Carolina over the next week, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue of WeatherModels.com. That’s enough water to fill the Empire State Building nearly 40,000 times.
More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
State officials also opened several shelters to augment evacuation centers run by local governments and nonprofits.
Businesses, online groups and other individuals also offered assistance to evacuees.
The hotelier lifted its ban on pets and eliminated cancellation penalties this week, joining other chains such as Motel 6 and Marriott International, which also waived parking costs in the affected areas.
In addition, the home rental company AirBnb activated its emergency “Open Homes” program this week for owners wanting to volunteer their houses to evacuees, and program membership doubled from 250 to more than 500 from Wednesday to Thursday.
Meanwhile, Facebook groups such as Hurricane Florence 2018 Jacksonville, NC stepped up to connect evacuees with people willing to pay for their gas or offer spare bedrooms — or in one case, trampolines — where they can stay.
More than 3,000 people joined the group Wednesday night, said volunteer moderator Katlyn McBrayer, adding that each donor is recorded in a database to match them with someone in need.
“We had one lady who was stranded with no gas in a Walmart parking lot who needed someone in Raleigh,” Ms. McBrayer said Thursday. “A hurricane is like a forced vacation that you might not be able to afford.”
Cedar Cliff Camp, a Christian summer camp in Buncombe County, North Carolina, posted a video Wednesday night offering its 24 cabins to evacuees. By Thursday afternoon, 220 evacuees had arrived to fill each cabin, bringing with them 95 children and 55 dogs, camp director Tim Brady said.
“One family had a cat give birth to kittens right before they left; now they have 17 cats,” Mr. Brady said. “One family has two birds, another one has a turtle. Someone is driving up a horse.”
The camp’s staff has a wish list on the website where people can purchase items such as sheets and towels that evacuees need or donate to the camp’s utility costs.
“We’re not the Grand Hyatt, but it’s an option for people,” said Mr. Brady, who thanked everyone for the comments on his post, which has been viewed almost 1 million times.
The town of Asheville, North Carolina, also has offered help. Eight churches and several restaurants are supplying free meals for evacuees until at least Tuesday night.
Some animal shelters shipped their animals out of the storm’s path so they could take in any pets of evacuees who had no choice but to leave them behind. The SPCA of Northeastern NC asked the community to foster any animals without hurricane-proof kennels.
“We’ve had a crazy amount of animals go into foster,” a shelter manager said Thursday. “It’s a really tiny town.”
Community members took in 20 dogs and 61 cats by Thursday night, said the manager, hanging up the phone to begin laying sandbags outside the building.
Pitt County Animal Control in North Carolina moved all 58 of its animals into temporary neighborhood foster care and partnered with a farmer’s market next door with the crates to make room for over 200 new rescues Thursday night, said director Michele Whaley.
“It’s a double-edged sword when you’re telling people to get out before the storm and don’t leave [their animals] behind,” Ms. Whaley said.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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