Millions prepare for potentially catastrophic Florence

Walker Townsend at right from the Isle of Palms S.C. fills a sand bag while Dalton Trout in center holds the bag at the Isle of Palms municipal lot where the city was giving away free sand in preparation for Hurricane Florence at the Isle of Palms S

As Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast of the United States, the governors of North and SC have issued mandatory evacuation orders affecting tens of thousands of residents in coastal areas.

Then, as the high-pressure system steering Florence weakens, the hurricane is expected to hang out inland for days, showering the region with rain much like Hurricane Harvey did to Houston a year ago.

"North Carolina is taking Hurricane Florence seriously, and you should, too", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said at a press conference.

While evacuation orders are issued by states as a protective action in disaster events such as hurricanes and wildfires, they are sometimes ignored by people - whether it's because they didn't believe the warnings, didn't have the financial means or refused to abandon friends, family or pets.

North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland governors have declared states of emergency.

Florence could hit the Carolinas harder than any hurricane since Hazel packed 130 miles per hour winds in 1954.

Preparations for Florence were intensifying up and down the densely populated east coast.

The storm is expected to strengthen even further before it makes landfall later this week, and could potentially reach a Category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds of 156mph.

South Carolina's governor ordered the state's entire coastline to be evacuated starting at noon on Tuesday.

Hurricanes Florence, Helene, and Isaac are all now brewing in the Atlantic Ocean.

Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., says global warming also affects the size and intensity of storms like Florence.

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Damaging winds could also spread well inland in those states and into Virginia, the hurricane center said.

Sustained winds on Tuesday afternoon approached 105 miles per hour, making it a very strong Category 2 storm, though it was expected to gradually weaken over cooler waters.

Slow-moving storms like Harvey are getting more common.

"The bottom line is that there is increasing confidence that Florence will be a large and extremely unsafe hurricane, regardless of its exact intensity", he said.

Helene was weakening, however, and posed no danger to land, the NHC said, while Isaac could bring heavy rain to Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe.

Historically, 90 percent of fatalities from hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions have been caused by water, NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

So you know, where we've been able to deploy resources closer to the coast when we had major hurricanes like this that maybe skirt the coast and then move up the coast of North Carolina, up the eastern seaboard - this one seems to be coming into the Wilmington area and then goes right through the state.

But Florence is large as well as strong, with impacts expected along a large swath of the Southeast Atlantic coast, said Meteorologist Robert Bright of the National Weather Service in Charleston. That Category 4 storm destroyed 15,000 buildings and killed 19 people in North Carolina.

The National Hurricane Center downgraded Isaac to a tropical storm overnight but said Tuesday that it could be "at or near hurricane levels" on Thursday, when it approaches the Lesser Antilles Islands. Its hurricane-force winds extend up to 60 miles from the storm's center. "We've never seen anything quite like this, on the East Coast at least", he said, according to Reuters.

At 5 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Florence was 575 miles east of Cape Fear, N.C., moving west-northwest at 17 mph.

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