Hurricane Florence: Life-threatening storm starts to lash Carolinas

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Media captionBBC on the ground as Hurricane Florence arrives

Tens of thousands of homes are without power and sea water is sloshing through coastal streets as Hurricane Florence begins lashing the US East Coast.

The hurricane is moving towards land with maximum sustained wind speeds of 90mph (150 km/h).

It lost power as it approached North and South Carolina, but officials warn it could still kill “a lot of people” with risks of “catastrophic” flooding.

Evacuation orders are in place for more than a million people.

Thousands had taken shelter in emergency facilities by Thursday night.

Photographs showed residents crowded into corridors with blankets on inflatable mattresses and mats.

The governor of North Carolina, where Florence is expected to make landfall at noon local time on Friday, said surviving the storm would be a test of “endurance, teamwork, common sense, and patience”.

“The first bands of the storm are upon us but we have days more to go,” Roy Cooper said.

National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear said North Carolina is likely to see eight months’ worth of rain in two to three days.

How dangerous is it?

Conditions deteriorated throughout Thursday. Some areas of North Carolina saw almost a foot of rain just a few hours, and footage showed sea levels begin to surge in land.

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North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper called the storm “historic”

At 23:00 local time (03:00 GMT) the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said wind speeds had slightly lowered, making it a category one hurricane.

The NHC says that despite the gradual lowering in wind strength, the storm remains extremely dangerous because of the high volume of rainfall and storm surges predicted.

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Media captionWhy do people ignore hurricane warnings?

“Inland flooding kills a lot of people, unfortunately, and that’s what we’re about to see,” said Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema).

He said that people living near rivers, streams and lowland areas in the region were most at risk.

How bad is it expected to get?

The latest weather predictions show the storm slowing to a near standstill as it pummels the coast with “copious amounts of rain” from Thursday night to Saturday.

Wind speeds are only expected to weaken on Saturday as the storm moves slowly across land.

Meteorologists have warned floodwaters may rise up to 13ft (4m) in areas as some rivers see their flows “reversed”.

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Media captionPeople have left homes and taken precautions ahead of the hurricane

Parts of the Carolina coast are expecting 20-30in (50-75cm) of rain, with isolated regions receiving up to 40in of downpour.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is imposing a 12-hour curfew from 19:00 local time on Thursday.

Petrol stations in the area are reporting shortages. Energy companies predict that one to three million homes and businesses may lose power.

Officials have warned restoring electricity could take days or even weeks.

Over 1,400 flights have been cancelled, according to FlightAware.com, as most of the coastal region’s airports are closed to ride out the storm.

Emergency workers are arriving from other parts of the US to aid in rescues.

Hurricanes

A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses.

Hurricanes develop from thunderstorms, fuelled by warm, moist air as they cross sub-tropical waters.
Warm air rises into the storm.

Air swirls in to fill the low pressure in the storm, sucking air in and upwards, reinforcing the low pressure.

The storm rotates due to the spin of the earth and energy from the warm ocean increases wind speeds as it builds.

When winds reach 119km/h (74mph), it is known as a hurricane – in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific – or a typhoon in the Western Pacific.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”
Florida Mayor Bob Buckhorn, ahead of Hurricane Irma (2017)

The central eye of calmer weather is surrounded by a wall of rainstorms.
This eyewall has the fastest winds below it and violent currents of air rising through it.

A mound of water piles up below the eye which is unleashed as the storm reaches land.
These storm surges can cause more damage from flooding than the winds.

“Urgent warning about the rapid rise of water on the SW FL coast with the passage of #Irma’s eye. MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”
Tweet from the National Hurricane Center

The size of hurricanes is mainly measured by the Saffir-Simpson scale – other scales are used in Asia Pacific and Australia.

Winds 119-153km/h
Some minor flooding, little structural damage.
Storm surge +1.2m-1.5m

Winds 154-177km/h
Roofs and trees could be damaged.
Storm surge +1.8m-2.4m

Winds 178-208km/h
Houses suffer damage, severe flooding
Storm surge +2.7m-3.7m

Hurricane Sandy (2012) caused $71bn damage in the Caribbean and New York

Winds 209-251km/h
Some roofs destroyed and major structural damage to houses.
Storm surge +4m-5.5m

Hurricane Ike (2008) hit Caribbean islands and Louisiana and was blamed for at least 195 deaths

Winds 252km/h+
Serious damage to buildings, severe flooding further inland.
Storm surge +5.5m

Hurricane Irma (2017) caused devastation in Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless

“For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”
Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin ahead of Hurricane Gustav, 2008

The Coast Guard has shallow-water response boats ready to help trapped residents.

Is global warming to blame?

The relationship between climate change and hurricanes is complex.

Warmer seas power hurricanes. So, as the temperature of ocean water goes up, we might expect the intensity of hurricanes to increase in future.

A hotter atmosphere can also hold more water, so this should allow hurricanes to dump more water on affected areas.

But there are so many factors that contribute to these rare events, it has been difficult to tease out clear trends from the data.

Are you in the area? How are you preparing for the hurricane? Let us know by emailing

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