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Gov. Cooper: 'Don't Risk Your Life Riding Out A Monster'

Updated at 6:45 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper continued to urge residents to prepare and evacuate ahead of Florence, which was downgraded to a category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour.

“If you've been asked to evacuate, don't wait. Leave now,” Cooper said. “Don’t risk your life riding out a monster.”

He warned residents of an intense storm surge caused by Florence, which is expected to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday.

“Our coast will feel the wrath of Florence starting in the morning, but all of the state will experience the impact,” Cooper said.

The National Hurricane Center said Wednesday evening that “life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding is likely” for the Carolinas late this week into early next week, and damaging storm force winds will hit the coast and likely move inland.

Cooper said there are at least 50 shelters open across the state that are currently housing 4,000-5,000 people.

Many universities have canceled classes for the rest of this week, including UNC Charlotte. The university has also moved its Saturday football game against Old Dominion to 4 p.m. Thursday. Other sporting events have been rescheduled or canceled.

A list of other university closures here.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools also announced a system-wide school closure beginning Thursday through the end of the week.

Updated at 3 p.m.

Florence has been downgraded to a category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. 

The weather service out of Wilmington, North Carolina, said even though Florence is slowing as it approaches the coast, "This is not a situation to take lightly."

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told residents to leave evacuation areas if they haven’t done so already.

“If you are in one of those zones, you must leave now,” McMaster said. “300,000 plus people have already done it.”

He said lane reversals on South Carolina highways are working well to get “people out of harm’s way.” Officials are planning to end lane reversals on major routes with the arrival of tropical-storm winds Thursday night.

South Carolina officials have inspected 181 dams throughout the state, and are urging dam owners to lower water levels now, ahead of the storm. 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said it is closing all schools within the system Thursday and Friday in preparation for Florence. In a statement Wednesday CMS said, "Hurricane Florence is dangerous, unpredicatable and safety is the priority."

Make up days will be assigned at a later date. 

Updated at 2:30 pm.

Florence’s peak winds have decreased slightly, but more areas are likely to be affected by storm force winds, according to the National Hurricane Center. Florence now has maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour that are expected to impact the Carolinas, Virginia and surrounding states. It remains a category 4 hurricane.

Graphs released by the center predict extreme storm force winds caused by Florence to hit the coastal Carolinas early Thursday morning, and move inland.

Heavy rainfall is expected in the next few days. The North Carolina coast may receive 20 to 30 inches, with some areas possibly seeing 40 inches of rain. Charlotte and western North Carolina will likely see 5 to 10 inches of rain. There is also a high risk of flash flooding in the coastal areas, and a moderate risk for the Charlotte area.

More than 100 shelters are now open around North Carolina with more to come, according to state Emergency Management Officials. That’s up from the number Emergency Management Chief Mike Sprayberry gave Wednesday morning, when he said 16 shelters were holding about 4,000 people in the eastern part of the state. The list of shelters throughout the state here.

The Red Cross opened five shelters at various high schools around Charlotte, including East Mecklenburg, South Mecklenburg, North Mecklenburg, Olympic and Ardrey Kell.

Airlines around the Carolinas are cancelling or postponing services ahead of the storm. Southwest Airlines said it plans to suspend operations at Charlotte-Douglas airport beginning mid-day Thursday, and has canceled flights through Friday night. American Airlines’ current travel alert allows customers whose travel plans are impacted by Florence to rebook without change fees.  

Charleston International Airport said it will close all runways starting Wednesday night through Friday night. Many airlines have begun canceling flights out of Charleston.

Updated: 11:40 a.m.

Florence is moving northwest near 15 miles per hour. This general direction and a gradual slowing are expected to go through Saturday.  

Maximum sustained winds remain near 130 miles per hour and the hurricane remains a category 4.

Hurricane conditions are expected to reach the warned area of the coast by late Thursday or Friday. Outside storm preparations should be completed before that time. 

Excessive amounts of rain are expected to be produced by Florence. Coastal North Carolina may receive 20 to 30 inches of rain with 40 inches possible in some areas. Charlotte and western North Carolina will likely see rainfall amounts of 5 to 10 inches. 

A few tornadoes are possible in eastern North Carolina beginning late Thursday morning. 

The city of Charlotte is urging residents to prepare for possible power outages ahead of Hurricane Florence’s expected arrival in Charlotte this Friday and Saturday. City officials are recommending residents stock up on water and food, and make sure nearby storm drains are clear in order to reduce flooding. Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt says residents will need to look out for each other this weekend.

"The biggest thing is to check on your neighbors. Go on Nextdoor. Tell people that you're home. Remind people to charge their cell phones. Check on the elderly who might think it's okay to stay in their house. They could have flooding. And so this is really a time when the community is going to have to come together and help each other out."

The city is also opening shelters in five local high schools around the city for hurricane evacuees and local residents who don’t have a safe place to stay during the storm.

The city asks residents only to call 911 in emergencies, and to dial 311 in all other cases.

Updated: 10:30 a.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says the time to prepare for Hurricane Florence is running out. 

In a press briefing today, the governor also announced the expansion of shelters open across the state. At least 16 shelters are open.  Five backup shelters will be open in Mecklenburg County

"North Carolina is about to face the power of Florence," Cooper said. "The time to prepare is almost over."

"North Carolina, my message is clear," Cooper added. "Disaster is at the doorstep and is coming in."

Cooper also warned those on the coast who haven't received evacuation orders to finish their preparations today. He also said at least 2,800 National Guard troops will be on active duty. 

Updated: 9:40 a.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will hold a press briefing at 10 a.m. to discuss Hurricane Florence.

The City of Charlotte will hold a press briefing at 10:30 to discuss its response to the hurricane and how it might impact the area.

Meanwhile, NASA has offered up its view of Florence as it makes its way to the Atlantic coast.

Updated: 6:55 a.m.

The path of Hurricane Florence now appears to be south of Charlotte. WCNC-TV meteorologist Brad Panovich says that likely means more rain and increased threats of tornados. Meanwhile, Charlotte officials and hotels are busy preparing for the storm and the people who will be coming to Charlotte from the coast.

The hurricane is now about 575 miles away from the coast and moving at about 17 miles per hour, according to the latest public advisory from the National Hurricane Center. The Category 4 hurricane has 130 miles per hour maximum sustained winds and is expected to strengthen today. The center says Florence will be an "extremely dangerous" major hurricane as it approaches the Atlantic coast.  

Charlotte hotels are filling up but the good news for coastal residents traveling to the city to ride out the storm is that rooms are still available. 

Local residents are cleaning out grocery stores of batteries, nonperishable goods and water, in case Florence brings in winds strong enough to bring down trees and power lines. 

"People are starting to take it seriously," Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said. "Things can change quickly and we’re doing what we can to get the emergency center up and running and working closely with the National Weather Service in Greenville Spartanburg to be prepared."

That emergency center is expected to be open 24 hours on Thursday and through the weekend to be available to respond to issues stemming from the storm. Local roads along Sugar Creek and some other areas of the city that are prone to flood during heavy rains will be watched closely, but Eiselt says none are scheduled for closure.

As of noon Tuesday, the private companies building toll lanes on I-77 suspended all lane closures and detours in preparation for the storm. Officials with I-77 Mobility Partners and Sugar Creek Construction met with North Carolina transportation officials to prepare for potential heavy rain and strong winds from Hurricane Florence in the construction area. Company officials say the I-77 project will be monitored around the clock by state transportation inspectors Thursday through Monday and that they will be alerted of any issues that need to be addressed. The companies will also have erosion control crews on hand to clear storm drains and ditches that have led to standing rainwater on roadways in the past during storms. 

As for other means of transportation, Amtrak has canceled service to and from numerous cites in Florida, Louisiana, New York, Alabama, Georgia and other states that require trains to go through parts of North Carolina affected by the storm. 

Charlotte Douglas International Airport officials are encouraging travelers to check with their airlines regularly because service will be disrupted by Hurricane Florence. The majority of the airlines have issued travel alerts and most are waiving fees for passengers who need to change their flights. 

Updated: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

Hurricane Florence has strengthened to 140 miles per hour winds, according to the National Hurricane Center's latest advisory.

In its latest forecast, the center maintains that a life-threatening storm surge is now highly likely along the coasts of North and South Carolina. The center also warns of "life-threatening, catastrophic" flash flooding in the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states from late this week through next week. The center estimates 15 to 25 inches of rain

Hurricane-force winds have also expanded outward and now extend up to 60 miles from the center of Florence.

Florence's Tropical-storm-force winds have also expanded and now extend outward up to 170 miles from the center.

At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, officials with Atrium Health said the hospital system was effectively on standby ahead of the impending storm.

Five patients had been airlifted from eastern parts of the state to the Charlotte area, and staff members were clearing out unused rooms in Charlotte-area facilities for the possibility that doctors and nurses are forced to spend the night.

Doctors have also been warning some patients of the possibility that their appointments over the weekend or early next week could be canceled, depending on the severity of the storm and the availability of medical staff.

The hospital system has also been holding daily briefings with emergency response teams, and has been in open communication with state and federal leaders as the storm approaches.

UNC Charlotte announced that it will be canceling classes starting 5 p.m. Wednesday. All university activities will be canceled for the rest of the week. 

Updated: 1:05 p.m. Tuesday

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged the state's residents to prepare for Hurricane Florence, which is expected to make landfall Thursday.

“[We need to] make sure people understand this is not a storm that you try to ride out," Cooper said. "It's the type of storm that's historic — maybe once in a lifetime.”

"This one's different, and we need to make sure people know that."

Cooper added that those who don't heed evacuation warnings are risking lives.

"They're risking their lives if they stay. They're also risking the lives of first responders.”

Bertie, Brunswick, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, New Hanover and Onslow counties all have evacuation orders.

Updated: 11:45 a.m. Tuesday

The National Hurricane Center is emphasizing that Hurricane Florence will slowly strengthen over the course of the next few days. This morning, Florence decreased from 140 miles per hour to 130 miles per hour maximum sustained winds but is expected to begin restrengthening later today.

Hurricane-force winds extend up to 40 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles. 

In a press briefing today, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has lifted his mandatory evacuation order for three counties: Beaufort, Colleton, and Jasper. His new order will not apply to Edisto Beach.

“We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence and what we are doing—team South Carolina is doing, is staying one step ahead,” McMaster said.

“This is a very dangerous hurricane and we don’t want to gamble with a single life of a single South Carolinian,” McMaster added.

Updated: 8 a.m. Tuesday

Hurricane Florence has weakened slightly, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Category 4 Hurricane, which is slowly making its way to the Atlantic coast, has decreased to 130 miles per hour maximum sustained winds, according to the center's latest public advisory.

The center expects the hurricane to get stronger again in the next day or so and says it will be an "extremely dangerous major hurricane" through Thursday night. 

Updated: 6:20 a.m. Tuesday

A hurricane watch and a "life-threatening" storm surge watch have been issued for the Carolinas and Virginia along the Atlantic coast as Hurricane Florence makes its way to landfall.

The National Hurricane Center says Florence will likely bring on the "possibility of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline" in the next two days.

The center estimates flood waters on the coast to range from 2 to 8 feet. From Cape Lookout to Ocracoke Inlet on North Carolina's coast, that estimation is as high as 5 to 8 feet.

Over the course of the week, rainfall will total 15 to 20 inches as Florence lingers over inland.

Today, more than a million people are expected to evacuate with a mandatory order to vacate in place for South Carolina's coastal counties.

Residents on North Carolina's Outer Banks are also being asked to evacuate.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, who joined CNN earlier today, warned residents to immediately make preparations ahead of Florence.

"Once this storm is upon us, we won't be able to send emergency personnel to save you," Saffo said. "Prepare now."

Florence is a Category 4 Hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. It is expected to reach the Carolinas by Thursday. 

Updated: 5:45 p.m. Monday

National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham says when Florence comes ashore and slows down, more problems are expected inland with heavy rainfall and high winds.

"That means saturated soil, high winds, trees, power lines, loss of power is going to be a big issue when this thing makes landfall and sits there basically for a few days," Graham said.

The center is warning of heavy, prolonged rainfall over the next seven days.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district has rescheduled all of its varsity football games to avoid Florence.

CMS says home games originally scheduled for Friday will be played on Wednesday, Sept. 12.

In South Carolina, Interstates 26 and 526, between Charleston and Columbia, will be closed going in the direction of the coast Tuesday, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety and the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The departments will implement a full four-lane reversal. There will also be reversals in place on Highway 501 near the coast.

Duke Energy expects "widespread damage" from Florence and says post-storm repairs could take weeks — based on past storms. The company says the storm's size and strength suggest it could cause more damage than Matthew in 2016.   

The company says it's moving power crews to the Carolinas from Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida so they'll be ready to begin restoring power as soon as possible.

Updated: 5 p.m. Monday

Hurricane Florence is getting stronger and larger, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Category 4 hurricane now has maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour and is moving at 13 miles per hour toward the coasts of North and South Carolina. 

According to the center, the forecast track has the center of Florence moving over the Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas Tuesday and Wednesday before approaching the Carolinas on Thursday.

Updated: 3 p.m. Monday

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the evacuation of the state's coastal counties in preparation for Hurricane Florence.

The order will take effect at noon on Tuesday. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division says it's planning for a large-scale evacuation.

"This may be inconvenient. This is a very dangerous hurricane. But we are not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina, not a one," McMaster said.

McMaster says the evacuation is expected to affect about 1 million people.  Inbound lanes also will be reversed on four main routes to the coast, to allow people to leave, says McMaster.

Updated: 2 p.m. Monday

The Charlotte Fire Department and emergency preparedness officials are urging residents to prepare now for the possibility of trouble from Hurricane Florence. CFD spokesman Rob Cannon and Hannah Panicco of CFD Emergency Preparedness talked to reporters this afternoon and urged everyone to stock up on supplies ahead of possible power outages and to check neighborhood storm drains to make sure they're clear for possible heavy rain.

Updated: 12:15 p.m. 

Florence has continued to rapidly strengthen and is now a Category 4 Hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 130 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In a press conference 11 a.m. Monday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Florence will be a threat statewide, not just at the coast. He’s urging residents to prepare for the severe weather.

“We here in North Carolina are bracing for a hard hit,” Cooper added. “Let me be clear: North Carolina is taking Hurricane Florence seriously and you should too.”

Cooper and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster have both declared states of emergency, and both asked federal officials for disaster declarations, which would free up new resources for responding to the storm. 

Cooper said 200 state National Guard troops have been activated, and thousands more are standing by for the call. Emergency preparedness officials have begun moving equipment into position around the state — a task he said is made more difficult by the knowledge that the storm could have effects statewide. 

Coastal evacuations have already been ordered in some coastal areas of North Carolina. Cooper said officials are consulting updated flooding models to prepare for possible inland evacuations along the Neuse, Lumber and Tar Rivers in the eastern part of the state. 

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered on Hatteras Island and the southern Outer Banks. Officials have ordered evacuations beginning Tuesday morning for residents and visitors of Dare County, including such popular tourist spots as Kitty Hawk and Nags Head. 

More briefings by public officials are planned Monday afternoon.  Charlotte officials will speak about hurricane preparation at 2 p.m.  South Carolina Gov. McMaster is also scheduled to give a briefing at 2:30 p.m.

On Sunday, McMaster urged South Carolina residents to prepare individually. He noted that with winds projected to reach more than 140 miles an hour, the storm would be more powerful than Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which left a path of devastation from South Carolina's coast northwest to Charlotte. 

Updated: 11:30 a.m. Monday

Florence has strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

In a press conference, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is calling the hurricane a major statewide threat.

"The forecast places North Carolina in the bullseye of Hurricane Florence, and the storm is rapidly getting strong," Cooper said. "When weather forecasters tell us it's life-threatening, we know that it is serious."

Cooper said North Carolina faces three threats from Florence: an ocean surge along the coast, strong winds higher than other hurricanes recently experienced and inland flooding from heavy rains.

“We here in North Carolina are bracing for a hard hit,” Cooper added. “Let me be clear: North Carolina is taking Hurricane Florence seriously and you should too.”

Updated: 8 a.m. Monday

Florence has intensified to a Category 2 hurricane, according to the National Weather Service, and is expected to reach major hurricane status later today.

In the western Carolinas and Georgia, the National Weather Service says rain and wind from the system will impact the area as early as Thursday and continue through the weekend. The hurricane is likely to bring dangerous surf and rip currents along the east coast. 

Although the path of the Hurricane remains unclear, the center is warning people to “closely monitor the progress of Florence, ensure they have their hurricane plan in place and follow any advice given by local officials.”

The governors of both North and South Carolina have declared states of emergency.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Friday and waived transportation rules to help farmers harvest and transfer more crops quickly ahead of the storm.

“While it’s still too early to know the storm’s path, we know we have to be prepared,” Gov. Cooper said. “During harvest, time is of the essence. Action today can avoid losses due to Florence.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also declared a state of emergency Saturday and temporarily suspended regulations for vehicles transporting supplies and utilities – like gas, electricity and medical supplies, among others.  

“With this order government agencies will begin to mobilize in anticipation of a hurricane,” McMaster said. “Now is the time for your family also to prepare and stay tuned for more updates.”

The National Hurricane Center also warned that Florence could cause life-threatening surf and rip currents along the East Coast, from Florida to North Carolina.