Fierce winds and massive waves are expected to lash the coasts of North and SC and Virginia even before Florence makes landfall by early Friday, bringing a storm surge as much as four metres, the National Hurricane Center in Miami has warned.
SC and North Carolina have ordered evacuations for people living in vulnerable areas along the coast. Hurricane Watches have been issued for the entire North Carolina coast with Tropical Storm Watches in effect for those along the I-95 corridor.
Namely, the lions, tigers and giraffes at the Virginia Zoo, and the more than 100 dogs and cats at the SPCA shelter in northeastern North Carolina.
Storm Surge: While the eye of Florence may make landfall along the south or middle of North Carolina's coast, the worst of the storm surge may occur further north, near the city of New Bern. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence's hurricane wind field was expected to expand over the coming days, increasing its storm surge and inland wind threats.
President Donald Trump on September 11 declared states of emergency for North and SC, to open avenues for federal aid. Now a Category 4 storm, it's possible that it could strengthen even more as it moves swiftly through the Atlantic Ocean.
Florence is now around 800 miles from Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 16mph with winds of 130mph.
A Category 4 storm is capable of ripping roofs off houses, snapping or uprooting most trees, bringing lasting power outages and making areas uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Hurricane Florence appears ready to churn through the Carolinas, bringing along massive winds, rainfall and flooding.More news: Track Hurricane Florence as it heads for the East Coast
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Larger animals like those at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, the property of which is partly under an evacuation order, are going to ride out the storm in the indoor and sheltered portions of their enclosures.
Needham said the size of the storm will also play a big role.
Officials have called for the mandatory evacuation of more than 1.4 million coastal residents across the Carolinas and Virginia.
Authorities are taking extraordinary measures to move people out of harm's way.
Florence is still a Category 4 hurricane and is expected to regain its top wind strength in the next day or so.
The impending storm, which Trump has warned about on Twitter, forced the president to cancel two campaign rallies this week: one in MS and one in Missouri. Sound unlikely? It's the same model that accurately predicted that last year's Hurricane Harvey, which also stalled over land, would drop 60 inches.
"Emergency management resources are expected to be fully utilized and needed throughout the region, and today's decision will help give ample time to deploy those resources across the state", NC State said.
At this height of the Atlantic hurricane season, Florence was being trailed on east-to-west paths by two other storms, Hurricane Helene and Tropical Storm Isaac, but neither packs the deadly punch of Florence.