Update: Category 1 Hurricane Florence Lands in Carolinas, Threatening Floods, Tornadoes, Power Outages
Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina, leaving more than half a million people without power and facing at least another day of heavy rain and wind.
Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach Friday as a Category 1 storm, and is now carrying maximum sustained winds of 80 miles (130 kilometers) an hour, menacing the coast with life-threatening storm surges. Rivers in the region are already reaching flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. The service also warned of potential tornadoes in the Carolinas.
“Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said Friday. “Rivers will keep rising for days, even after the rain stops.”
The total bill for damage from Florence could eventually reach $10 billion to $20 billion, said Chuck Watson, a disaster researcher at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. Hundreds of thousands of people have evacuated the coast, more than 1,500 U.S. flights have been canceled, factories have been shut and farmers have rushed to save livestock and crops from the storm’s wrath.
About 525,000 homes and businesses were without power, mostly in North Carolina. Duke Energy Corp. has estimated that as many as 3 million customers, 75 percent of its total, face potential electricity disruptions from the storm.
More than 60 guests had to evacuate the Triangle Motor Inn in Jacksonville, North Carolina, in the middle of the night after winds and rain caused “life-threatening damage,” including a basketball-sized hole in a corner room, according to city police. Cinder blocks were crumbling and some of the roof collapsed, flooding rooms.
The storm surge is forecast to reach a deadly 11 feet (3.4 meters) in some parts of the state. More than 100 people have been rescued from rising waters, the North Carolina’s Emergency Management office said on its Twitter account, advising those affected to move to an attic or second story for safety.
Florence by the numbers:
About 200,000 North Carolina residents have taken cover in shelters, the governor said. More than 11 million meals, 18 million liters of water, 60,000 cots and 1 million blankets were “pre-positioned” to help residents The Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring monitoring more than three-dozen Superfund, oil production facilities and chemical storage sites that may be in the path of the hurricane. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is sending inspectors to nuclear plants that could be damaged. Over 500 Nation Guard soldiers and airmen are responding to calls across the state.
On the forecast track, the center of Florence is expected to move inland across the extremes of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina Friday and Saturday. It will then go northward across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week.
North Carolina is the largest tobacco grower and ranks second among U.S. states in hog inventory and producing broiler chickens. CoBank ACB, an agricultural lender, estimates damage to North Carolina farming could hit $1 billion before the storm slows.
Along with agriculture, the Carolinas stand as an important regional hub for banking, technology, manufacturing and transportation, accounting for about 4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, according to a Bloomberg U.S. economic analysis. The path may affect more than 4,000 manufacturing and distribution facilities, potentially hurting sectors including auto-parts and packaged foods, according to Bloomberg Supply Chain data.
“This is not the end of it. Twenty-four to 36 hours remain of a significant threat,” Jeff Byard, FEMA’s Associate Administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery, said Friday. “I hope people bought flood insurance because you are going to need it for this event.”
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