Live Updates: More Than 790,000 Without Power; 5 Deaths Attributed To Florence
Updated: 9:30 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety is reporting more than 790,000 power outages across the state as Tropical Storm Florence continues its slow track toward the western part of the state.
The department says the highest concentration of outages are in New Hanover, Brunswick, Wake, Onslow and Carteret counties.
Duke Energy reports 533,400 customers are without power in the Carolinas, including 487,483 in North Carolina and 45,562 in South Carolina.
Florence is expected to bring Charlotte and the western Carolinas 5 to 10 inches of rainfall with isolated parts of the region getting as much as 15 inches of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center says this will cause "life-threatening flash flooding."
The center also reports that rainfall has already exceeded 16 inches in several parts of North Carolina.
The storm has sustained winds of 55 miles per hour, with gusts up to 68 miles per hour.
A fifth person's death has also been attributed to Florence. A 77-year-old man in Lenoir County was reportedly blown down by the wind when he went outside to check on his hunting dogs.
Updated: 5:30 p.m.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called the deaths of three people in Florence devastating and continued to warn the state's residents to be vigilant with heavy rainfall expected in the days ahead.
"This loss of life is devastating," Cooper said in a press briefing Friday evening. "It's devastating to the families and the friends of these victims. The fact is this storm is deadly and we know that we're days away from an ending."
A mother and her infant died in Wilmington after a tree fell on their home, according to the Wilmington Police Department, and one other person died while plugging in a generator in Lenoir County, according to the governor's office. WUNC also reports one woman died of a heart attack in Hampstead. First responders were unable to reach the woman because of a downed tree.
Cooper said local agencies are investigating "several" more deaths in the wake of Florence. He also spoke about how Florence's impact will be felt across the state, including in Charlotte.
"More flooding will occur in Eastern in North Carolina, as well as area from Fayetteville, through the Sand Hills, all the way to Charlotte," Cooper said. "Some of these areas have not flooded before."
Updated: 4:55 p.m.
Florence has been downgraded to a tropical depression with a maximum sustained wind speeds of 70 miles per hour.
In its latest advisory, the National Hurricane Center has also discontinued the storm surge watch south of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and north of Salvo, N.C., including Albemarle Sound.
Updated: 4 p.m.
Four people have died and hundreds of thousands are without power in North Carolina as Hurricane Florence has brought dangerous flooding and destructive winds to the region.
The National Weather Service projects heavy wind and sporadic rain in the Charlotte area Friday night, with Saturday bringing heavier rain and winds of around 25 to 30 miles per hour. Some wind gusts could top out around 40 mph.
The heaviest rain will likely come Saturday night through Sunday morning, with showers and thunderstorms continuing through Monday. All told, Charlotte could be drenched in 8 to 10 inches of rain, according to the weather service, which will likely cause widespread flash flooding.
"It’s definitely or more likely going to produce some flooding, cause Charlotte’s a very flash-floody area," said Scott Krentz, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "It’s pretty flat and the streams in the Charlotte area are pretty shallow, and it doesn’t take much for them to come out of their banks. So we expect definitely some flooding around the whole Charlotte-Metro area and actually the whole I-77 corridor area."
State officials say there are 639,729 power outages in North Carolina.
Updated: 3:40 p.m.
A mother and her infant died in Wilmington after a tree fell on their home, according to the Wilmington Police Department, and one other person died while plugging in a generator in Lenoir County, according to the governor's office. These are the first reported fatalities caused by Florence.
Separately, a woman died after suffering a heart attack in Hampstead, N.C., according to a report from WUNC. First responders were unable to reach the victim because of a downed tree in the road.
Also, in a press briefing officials in South Carolina said there are 66,924 power outages in the state as of 2 p.m.
Updated 2:30 p.m.
"Life-threatening" storm surges and hurricane-force winds are continuing to pound the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence slowly makes its way westward.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety is now reporting 615,849 power outages statewide.
Florence is moving at 5 miles per hour and has 75 miles per hour sustained winds.
Updated at 1:20 p.m.
More than 600,000 power outages are reported across North Carolina as Florence slowly moves west toward the North Carolina and South Carolina border.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety reports 604,375 power outages across the state at 1 p.m.
Florence, now a Category 1 hurricane, has 75 miles per hour sustained winds and is moving at 6 miles per hour. The breadth of the hurricane's reach — with hurricane-force winds extending from the center up to 70 miles and tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 195 miles — is causing significant flooding expected in its path and damaging wind gusts.
Updated at 11:25 a.m.
Almost half a million people in North Carolina are without power as Hurricane Florence slowly makes its way across the state, bringing flooding and dangerous high winds with it inland.
Gov. Roy Cooper, who spoke at a briefing on Florence this morning, continued to warn residents that the threat of Florence will linger.
"The sun rose this morning on an extremely dangerous situation and it's getting worse," Cooper said. "The storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days."
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety says there are 497,255 power outages statewide as of 10:30 a.m.
In its latest public advisory, the National Hurricane Center says the slow-moving motion of Florence will track further inland across southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina today and Saturday. Florence will then move up north across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week.
Updated at 9:45 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety says there are more than 485,000 power outages across the state, with the highest concentration of outages in Beaufort, Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Robeson, Sampson, Wake and Wayne Counties.
The current total of power outages is 485,143.
Updated at 9:15 a.m.
Governor Roy Cooper calls Hurricane Florence an uninvited brute that doesn’t want to leave. In an appearance on NPR's Morning Edition, the governor said more than 100 people have been rescued in New Bern, N.C., and crews had to rescue people from a hotel in Jacksonville. He estimates almost 20,000 people are in more than 150 shelters around the state.
Ocean surge and torrential rainfall are causing flooding in coastal areas. Cooper says the state is trying hard to save those who are stranded.
“Now, we’re working very hard to save lives," Cooper said. "That is the number one mission right now. And then of course after the storm leaves, we will be in for working for recovery, repair and long term efforts to get people back on their feet again.”
Cooper says the state is working closely with FEMA partners who have brought in supplies and equipment to assist in hurricane recovery operations.
Lauren Carroll, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said flooding because of rainfall is still a huge concern for the Charlotte area.
"We’re starting to hone, we think, a little bit more on a track that looks realistic for Florence at this point," Carroll said. "So the totals we have now range anywhere from about 10 inches up to — there are a couple spots we even have 13-14 inches somewhere in Union County, North Carolina."
Updated at 8 a.m.
Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina at 7:15 a.m., according to the National Hurricane Center.
Florence, which has been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane with sustained wind speeds of 90 miles per hour, has already caused significant flooding on the Outer Banks and the eastern part of the state. The North Carolina Department of Transportation warns residents to avoid driving through these areas as conditions are expected to worsen.
NEW: #Hurricane #Florence has made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina at 7:15 AM EDT (1115 UTC) with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph (150 km/h), and a minimum central pressure estimate of 958 mb (28.29"). https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter.com/vzpe6MjTf9— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 14, 2018
The National Hurricane Center continues to warn of a "life-threatening" storm surge along the coast and hurricane-force winds, with catastrophic freshwater flooding expecting over portions of the Carolinas.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety says there are 372,095 power outages across the state.
Updated at 6:30 a.m.
There are more than 321,000 power outages statewide this morning as the eye of Hurricane Florence nears landfall in Wilmington, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the National Hurricane Center.
At 6 a.m., the National Hurricane Center reported the eyewall of Florence reached the Atlantic coast and that the eye of the storm will reach the state soon.
The NC Department of Public Safety reported 321,692 power outages statewide at 6 a.m.
Florence was recorded with 90 miles per hour sustained winds and moving at about 6 miles per hour. On Cape Lookout, the NOAA reported dangerous wind speeds of 59 miles per hour and gusts of 79 miles per hour.
Updated at 8:20 p.m. Thursday
Areas along the North Carolina coast are getting hit with hurricane-force winds, with some areas experiencing sustained winds of 82 miles per hour and gusts reaching up to 99 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Lesser, but still significant, tropical storm-force winds are expected to extend up to 80 miles outward from the center of Hurricane Florence, moving inland into the Carolinas.
There are around 42,000 North Carolinians without power Thursday evening, according to Duke Energy’s website. That’s up from the estimated 30,000 people North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper referenced in his 5 p.m. press conference Thursday.
“The worst of the storm is not yet here,” Cooper said. “But these are the early warnings of the days to come. Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience.”
Gusty winds are expected to reach Charlotte Friday evening and remain through Saturday.
Updated at 5:50 p.m. Thursday
There are more than 30,000 people without power in North Carolina and roads along the coast are beginning to flood, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday evening.
“The worst of the storm is not yet here,” Cooper said. “But these are the early warnings of the days to come. Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience.”
He thanked residents who evacuated, and reiterated the dangers of remaining in areas with evacuation orders.
“For anyone still unwilling to take this storm seriously, let me be clear,” Cooper said. “You need to get yourself to a safe place now and stay there.”
Cooper said 12,000 evacuees have taken refuge at the 126 shelters opened across the state. He also said the state’s been preparing for the aftermath of Florence, and how it might impact low income areas of North Carolina.
“As every day goes by, I think we can all se the significant challenges ahead of us,” he said. “I think the people who can afford it the least get hit the most.”
Cooper said the state’s been talking with FEMA and the federal government to gather the sources needed for cleanup and recovery.
Hurricane-force winds are getting closer to the North Carolina Outer Banks and southeastern coastal areas, according to a 5 p.m. advisory by the National Hurricane Service. Gusty winds are expected to move inland and reach Charlotte by Friday evening, remaining through Saturday.
Duke Energy Spokesman Randy Wheeless said the power utility is expecting a big hit from Florence.
“Right now, we’re looking at least at a million power outages, maybe even three million,” Wheeless said.
He said Duke has called on out-of-state partners, like Florida Power and Light.
“We’ve got a lot of crews here,” he said. “We know the outages are going to be big. We’re ready to respond.”
Charlotte Water is also reassuring residents that they will be safe in the aftermath of Florence.
Spokeswoman Louise Bhavnani said the city has taken extra precautions to ensure the public won’t have to go without tap water. She said the utility has generators and fuel in place if the electricity goes out. Staff will also be on standby to address any problems in the wake of Florence.
"If your electricity goes out at your home, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to lose access to your drinking water," Bhavnani said.
She also said it’s unlikely the water supply will experience contamination. If there are issues, the public will be notified via reverse 911 calls and with online updates.
If people are worried about their water supply in the coming days, Bhavnani said the best resource is one they already have.
"It’s called the sink," she said. "Fill jugs up with water. Fill up Ziploc bags and put it in the freezer then you have ice and you have water when it melts."
Updated at 3:45 p.m. Thursday
Charlotte has a 50 percent chance of seeing sustained tropical storm-force winds greater than 39 miles per hour beginning Friday night and lasting through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
Dangerous winds are already hitting the coast, moving inland. Hurricane Florence is slowing down as it approaches land. It’s moving 10 miles per hour toward the southern part of the North Carolina coast and is projected to move across South Carolina and upward toward Tennessee and Virginia.
Even though Florence has been downgraded to a category 2, officials in the Carolinas are warning residents to watch out for dangerous winds, extensive rainfall and flash flooding.
“This is still a very very dangerous storm, not only on the coast but also in the interior of the state,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said in an afternoon press conference.
He said residents need to be prepared and patient because dangerous weather conditions like winds and flooding will last a few days after Florence makes landfall.
“This may be the first time we’ve experienced a kind of two-punch from these weather conditions,” he said.
McMaster told residents that if they have not left evacuation zones, they need to leave now because the window to safely evacuate is “closing quickly.”
As of 2 p.m. Thursday, close to 4,500 people were making use of the 61 shelters opened in South Carolina. Twelve of those shelters are reserved for residents with special medical needs.
The shelters are prepared to hold more than 35,000 people.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said concerns of storm surge and massive flooding remain the same. Cooper will give another update at 5 p.m.
Updated at 2 p.m. Thursday
The National Hurricane Center continues to warn of damaging storm-force winds, which will likely hit the coastal Carolinas as soon as Thursday evening. The gusty winds of Hurricane Florence are projected to move inland toward Charlotte and its surrounding areas Friday morning.
Florence has been downgraded to a category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour, but officials are still warning residents to not underestimate the storm and to be prepared.
"Our greatest concern about this storm remains the same," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a Thursday morning press conference. "Storm surge and massive flooding. Catastrophic effects will be felt across the state."
More schools and institutions around the Charlotte area are closing ahead of the hurricane. Winthrop and Pfeiffer Universities have canceled classes for Friday and Monday.
The Mint Museum Uptown has canceled grand reopening events this weekend, with plans to reschedule them at a later date.
Wells Fargo announced Thursday that it closed 47 branches in the eastern part of North Carolina and said it may close more throughout the state as the storm progresses.
Updated: 11 a.m. Thursday
Hurricane Florence continues to decrease in wind speed but its massive size — with wind and rain expected to be felt as far as 195 miles away from its center — still presents a danger to the coastal Carolinas, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In the latest public advisory, the Category 2 hurricane has decreased to 105 miles per hour sustained winds and is moving at 10 miles per hour. It's about 145 miles away from Wilmington, N.C., and 195 miles away from Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Lauren Carroll, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, says rainfall will have a significant effect on the Charlotte area.
“We’re actually looking at a widespread total of at least 6 inches," Carroll said.
Some areas in Charlotte could see more than the average, Carroll said, with at least 8 to 10 inches of rainfall from Saturday through early Monday morning.
Carroll also said she “can almost guarantee” there will be flooding in the Charlotte area and urges residents to take caution.
“So right now our biggest concern is really the rainfall and the potential flooding that might result from that rainfall," she said. "The biggest killer in hurricanes is not the wind, it's water. Flooding actually accounts for most deaths and injuries in hurricanes across the board in the United States.”
Updated: 10:25 a.m. Thursday
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents to not underestimate the danger of Florence after declining wind speeds and a downgrade to a category 2 hurricane.
"Our greatest concern about this storm remains the same," Cooper said. "Storm surge and massive flooding. Catastrophic effects will be felt across the state."
Cooper says thousands of structures are expected to be flooded.
"If local officials tell you to seek higher ground, listen to them," Cooper said.
The governor also said more than 7,000 people are utilizing 108 shelters open across the state. There are five shelters available in Charlotte.
In an appearance on Charlotte Talks, Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson also warned against taking Florence lightly.
"Just because we don’t have 80 miles per hour winds doesn’t mean we aren’t going to see less trees down," Johnson said. "The ground is already saturated — 30-35 miles per hour winds, we will see trees down. We will lose power in certain parts of the city.”
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, who also joined Charlotte Talks, reminded residents that there's no reason to stock up on water because the city's water system isn't tied to the electric system. She also discussed her conversations with the federal government.
"We’ve gotten a message from the White House about the resources available through FEMA," Lyles said. "We’ve also had many conversations with the governor’s office and our senators have stepped up as well. But we have to realize, this isn’t an event that talks about who’s elected. This is an event that talks about who’s going to take care of our community. And I think that coordination is necessary and that we want to make sure it happens."
Johnson, who is the point person in Charlotte for emergency response, also discussed transportation with Florence on the way.
“Part of our emergency operations plans is for CATS to provide transportation to the shelters," he said. "As far as just the normal operations, that’s going to be dependent on weather, wind and rain amounts.”
Updated: 8:15 a.m. Thursday
Florence continues to decrease in speeds and wind but is still considered a "life-threatening" hurricane because of the expected storm surge and rainfall, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Florence is just 170 miles away from Wilmington, North Carolina, according to the latest public advisory by the center. It's now moving at 12 miles per hour and has maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour.
The center warns that rising water moving inland from the coastline will be extremely dangerous and continued rainfall over the next several days will cause flooding throughout the Carolinas.
Updated: 6:30 a.m. Thursday
Powerful rain and wind from Hurricane Florence are expected to be felt in the Carolinas today, according to the latest public advisory from the National Hurricane Center.
Florence is 205 miles away from Wilmington, North Carolina, and 250 miles away from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to the center, which will bring a “life-threatening” storm surge and rainfall. The outer rain bands are currently approaching the coast of North Carolina.
The hurricane is gradually decreasing in strength and slowing in speed. It’s currently moving at 15 miles per hour to the coast and has maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour.
Hurricane-force winds are expected to extend up to 80 miles from the center of Florence while tropical storm force winds will extend up to 195 miles from the center.
The tropical storm watch for north of the North Carolina and Virginia border has been downgraded to a tropical storm warning. That effects Cape Charles Light Virginia and for the Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.
The center warns that that hurricane-like conditions will reach the coast by this evening or early Friday.
On the coast of North Carolina and the northeast of South Carolina, 20 to 30 inches of rainfall is expected. In the rest of the Carolinas up to southwest Virginia, 6 to 12 inches are expected.
Updated at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday
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. Wednesday
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. Wednesday
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. Wednesday
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. Wednesday
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. Wednesday
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. Wednesday
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.
#Florence could produce life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding & significant river flooding over portions of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states from late this week into early next week. Graphic via @NWSWPC, and the full advisory is at https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter.com/0bQAIiBMKZ— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 11, 2018
“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.”
NEW: Florence is now a category 4 hurricane. Data from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter indicate that Florence has continued to rapidly strengthen and has maximum sustained winds near 130 mph (195 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 946 mb (27.93 inches) https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter.com/wfLt6fJPl2— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 10, 2018
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.”
As of the 11AM advisory #Florence is once again a Major Hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. Continued strengthening is forecast and it is forecast to approach the east coast as a large and powerful hurricane. https://t.co/Hu2FHDPDAG pic.twitter.com/3PyyqucDOW— National Weather Service (@NWS) September 10, 2018
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.