Cyclone kills one, leaves trail of destruction across Mozambique

Damaged properties are pictured after Cyclone Kenneth swept through the region in Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique April 26, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. Picture taken from inside a vehicle. UNICEF via REUTERS

By Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer

JOHANNESBURG/LUANDA (Reuters) – Cyclone Kenneth killed at least one person and left a trail of destruction in northern Mozambique, destroying houses, ripping up trees and knocking out power, authorities said on Friday.

The cyclone brought storm surges and wind gusts of up to 280 km per hour (174 mph) when it made landfall on Thursday evening, after killing three people in the island nation of Comoros.

It was the most powerful storm on record to hit Mozambique’s northern coast and came just six weeks after Cyclone Idai battered the impoverished nation, causing devastating floods and killing more than 1,000 people across a swathe of southern Africa.

The World Food Programme warned that Kenneth could dump as much as 600 millimeters of rain on the region over the next 10 days – twice that brought by Cyclone Idai.

One woman in the port town of Pemba died after being hit by a falling tree, the Emergency Operations Committee for Cabo Delgado (COE) said in a statement, while another person was injured.

In rural areas outside Pemba, many homes are made of mud. In the main town on the island of Ibo, 90 percent of the houses were destroyed, officials said. Around 15,000 people were out in the open or in “overcrowded” shelters and there was a need for tents, food and water, they said.

There were also reports of a large number of homes and some infrastructure destroyed in Macomia district, a mainland district adjacent to Ibo.

A local group, the Friends of Pemba Association, had earlier reported that they could not reach people in Muidumbe, a district further inland.

Mark Lowcock, United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, warned the storm could require another major humanitarian operation in Mozambique.

“Cyclone Kenneth marks the first time two cyclones have made landfall in Mozambique during the same season, further stressing the government’s limited resources,” he said in a statement.

FLOOD WARNINGS

Shaquila Alberto, owner of the beach-front Messano Flower Lodge in Macomia, said there were many fallen trees there, and in rural areas people’s homes had been damaged. Some areas of nearby Pemba had no power.

“Even my workers, they said the roof and all the things fell down,” she said by phone.

Further south, in Pemba, Elton Ernesto, a receptionist at Raphael’s Hotel, said there were fallen trees but not too much damage. The hotel had power and water, he said, while phones rang in the background. “The rain has stopped,” he added.

However Michael Charles, an official for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said heavy rains over the next few days were likely to bring a “second wave of destruction” in the form of flooding.

“The houses are not all solid, and the topography is very sandy,” Charles said.

In the days after Cyclone Idai, heavy inland rains prompted rivers to burst their banks, submerging entire villages, cutting areas off from aid and ruining crops. There were concerns the same could happen again in northern Mozambique.

Before Kenneth hit, the government and aid workers moved around 30,000 people to safer buildings such as schools, however authorities said that around 680,000 people were in the path of the storm.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer; Writing by Emma Rumney; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Alexandra Zavis)

Cyclone Kenneth batters Comoros and heads to Mozambique

Tropical Cyclone Kenneth approaches the coast of Mozambique in this April 25, 2019 handout satellite image. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Ali Amir Ahmed

MORONI (Reuters) – Violent winds of up to 140 kph (87 mph) lashed the East African island nation of Comoros overnight, killing three people, authorities said on Thursday, as Cyclone Kenneth swept toward flood-battered Mozambique.

In Comoros, the winds caused widespread power outages in the northern part of the main island, Grande Comore, and the capital Moroni as well as on the island of Anjouan, residents said.

By Thursday afternoon, the cyclone was making its way to Mozambique, just over a month after Cyclone Idai tore through central Mozambique, virtually flattening the port city of Beira, flooding an area the size of Luxembourg and killing more than 1,000 people across the region.

Kenneth may strengthen before it makes landfall on the continent, said Dipuo Tawana, forecaster at the South African Weather Service.

It could bring seven- to nine-meter waves and a three-meter storm surge, she said, and was likely to linger over Mozambique, dumping rain until late Monday evening, bringing a risk of intense flooding.

“The rainfall that we forecast for the next four days in the northeastern part of Mozambique – we have between 500 and 1,000 millimeters (19.5 to 39 inches) of rain,” Tawana said.

FLOODS LOOM FOR MOZAMBIQUE

In Comoros, a Reuters correspondent saw fallen trees and debris from homes scattered over streets, and houses with their roofs torn off.

President Azali Assoumani told reporters that three people had been were killed and several others injured.

A few taxis were driving around the center of Moroni on Thursday morning as police and soldiers cleared blocked roads. Government offices and schools were closed.

In Mozambique, authorities said on Wednesday that five rivers as well as coastal waterways could overflow, putting over 680,000 people at risk from the storm.

Antonie Beleza, deputy national director of Mozambique’s Centre for Emergency Operations, said the center had been telling people for days to move out of 17 at-risk districts.

“There were some people, they didn’t want to move as of yesterday, so now we are just taking them out,” he said by phone from the northern port town of Pemba. At least 5,000 people had moved out.

The energy firm Anadarko, which is developing large natural gas fields off Mozambique, said it had suspended air transportation in and out of the site as a precaution.

Exxon Mobil , also involved in the fields, said its operations were normal for now, but that it was monitoring the situation.

(Additional reporting Emma Rumney and Alexander Winning in Johannesburg and Stephen Eisenhammer in Luanda; Writing by Elias Biryabarema and Alison Williams; Editing by Hereward Holland and Kevin Liffey)

Punishing Hurricane Michael bears down on Florida Panhandle

Hurricane Michael is seen in this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satlellite (NOAA GOES-East satellite) image in the Gulf of Mexico, October 9, 2018. Courtesy NOAA GOES-East/Handout via REUTERS

By Devika Krishna Kumar

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Michael was still strengthening as it closed in on the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday with the threat of catastrophic surges of sea water and roof-shredding winds, and was expected to be the worst hurricane ever recorded in the region.

Michael caught many by surprise with its rapid intensification as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly after 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) it was carrying top winds of 150 miles per hour (241 km per hour), making it a very dangerous Category 4 storm on five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the National Hurricane Center said.

Authorities told residents along the affected areas of Florida’s northwest coast that they had run out of time to evacuate and should hunker down.

The storm caused major disruption to oil and gas production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

Michael’s core was forecast to make landfall on Wednesday afternoon on Florida’s Panhandle and could drive sea water levels as high as 14 feet (4.3 meters) above normal in some areas, the hurricane center said. The storm could still strengthen further before coming ashore, it said.

As the outer bands arrived, ocean water was already flooding parts of Port St. Joe.

Mayor Bo Patterson said about 2,500 of the town’s 3,500 people were still there, including about 100 in a beachside area who did not follow a mandatory evacuation order. The two bridges leading out of Port St. Joe were closed, meaning no one could get out now.

“People are finally getting it, that this is going to be pretty strong,” Patterson said. “This happened so quickly, we weren’t exactly prepared.”

Michael grew from a tropical storm to Category 4 hurricane in about 40 hours.

“This kind of sprung up for us quite quickly,” said Andrew Gillum, mayor of the state capital, Tallahassee, which lies about 25 miles (40 km) from the coast and was preparing for a battering.

“We honestly felt we might have a tropical system and weren’t sure where it would go and now we’re staring down the barrel of a Category 4 storm,” Gillum told CNN.

“Satellite images of Michael’s evolution on Tuesday night were, in a word, jaw-dropping,” wrote Bob Henson, a meteorologist with weather site Weather Underground.

People in coastal parts of 20 Florida counties had been told to leave their homes. Much of the area is rural and known for small tourist cities, beaches and wildlife reserves, as well as Tallahassee.

Waves crash along a pier as Hurricane Michael approaches Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Waves crash along a pier as Hurricane Michael approaches Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

TOO LATE TO LEAVE

Governor Rick Scott said on Twitter on Wednesday morning that it was too late to evacuate the target zone and that people who had stayed should immediately seek refuge.

Hurricane center Director Ken Graham said on Facebook that Michael would be the worst storm in recorded history to hit the Panhandle.

“Going back through records to 1851 we can’t find another Cat 4 in this area, so this is unfortunately a historical and incredibly dangerous and life-threatening situation,” he said.

Nearly 40 percent of daily crude oil production and more than one-third of natural gas output was lost from offshore U.S. Gulf of Mexico wells on Wednesday because of platform evacuations and shut-ins caused by Michael.

The hurricane was about 60 miles (95 km) south-southwest of Panama City, Florida, and moving north-northeast at 14 mph (22 kph), the hurricane center said in its 11 a.m. ET advisory.

Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said his city, which could suffer some of the worst of the storm surge, was under mandatory evacuation orders.

“My greatest concern is that some people are just now starting to take this storm seriously and are evacuating,” he told CNN. “And I just hope the others that have not made that decision get out while the roads are still passable and before the bridges close.”

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.

POWER CUTS START

Authorities warned of coming disruptions for those in Michael’s path. About 10,000 customers were already without power around midday.

The region should brace for “major infrastructure damage,” specifically to electricity distribution, wastewater treatment systems and transportation networks, Jeff Byard, associate administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters on a conference call.

Many state offices, schools and universities in the area have been closed since Tuesday.

Helen Neal, 88, and her husband, J.W. Neal, 87, preferred to take their chances in a hotel rather than in their two-story beachfront house about a mile away in Panama City.

“We just finished renovating and updating,” she said. “We’re kind of nervous. God willing we’ll still have some place.”

About 2,500 National Guard troops were deployed to assist with evacuations and storm preparations, and more than 4,000 others were on standby. Some 17,000 utility restoration workers were also on call.

NHC Director Graham said Michael represented a “textbook case” of a hurricane system growing stronger as it drew near shore, in contrast to Hurricane Florence, which struck North Carolina last month after weakening in a slow, halting approach.

He said the storm would still have hurricane-force winds as it pushed through Florida into Georgia and tropical storm-force winds when it reaches the Carolinas, which are still reeling from post-Florence flooding. Up to a foot (30 cm) of rainfall was forecast for some areas.

Scott, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate in November’s congressional elections, declared a state of emergency in 35 Florida counties.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency on Tuesday for 92 counties in his state and a state of emergency also was announced in North Carolina.

The last major hurricane, a storm of Category 3 or above, to hit the Panhandle was Dennis in 2005, according to hurricane center data.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Tallahassee, Florida; additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Panama City, Florida, Susan Heavey and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Gina Cherelus and Barbara Goldberg in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Liz Hampton in Houston, Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Trott; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Mother and child plus two others killed as Florence swamps Carolinas

A fallen tree lies atop the crushed roof of a fast food restaurant after the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

 

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Hurricane Florence crashed into the Carolinas on Friday, knocking down trees, swamping streets and causing four deaths before slowing to a pace that will lead to a days-long deluge for the region.

The storm’s first casualties, which included a mother and her baby killed when a tree fell on their brick house in Wilmington, North Carolina, were announced about eight hours after Florence came ashore. The child’s father was taken to a hospital.

In Pender County, North Carolina, a woman suffered a heart attack and died because hurricane debris blocking roads prevented paramedics from reaching her. A fourth person was killed in Lenoir County while plugging in a generator, the governor’s office said.

After landfall, Florence slowed to a pace that meant it would plague the area with days of flooding. The hurricane’s storm surge – the wall of water it pushed in from the Atlantic – “overwhelmed” the town of New Bern at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said.

“To those in the storm’s path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place,” he said at a news conference in Raleigh, adding that Florence would “continue its violent grind across the state for days.”

Authorities said more than 60 people, including many children and pets, had to be evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds caused parts of the roof to collapse.

The center of the hurricane’s eye came ashore at about 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT) near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina, with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

By mid-afternoon the winds had dropped to 75 mph (120 kph) and the center was moving west at 6 mph (10 kph), the NHC said, and parts of North and South Carolina would get as much as 40 inches of rain (1 meter).

Cooper said Florence was set to cover almost all of North Carolina in several feet of water. As of Friday morning, Atlantic Beach, a town on the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands, already had received 30 inches (76 cm) of rain, the U.S. Geological Service said. Twenty inches (50 cm) were reported by early Friday afternoon in the town of Oriental.

Authorities in New Bern, a town of about 30,000 people that dates to the early 18th century, said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods and that the downtown area was underwater. Calls for help kept coming in as the wind picked up and the tide arrived, said city public information officer Colleen Roberts.

“These are folks who decided to stay and ride out the storm for whatever reason, despite having a mandatory evacuation,” she said. “These are folks who are maybe in one-story buildings and they’re seeing the floodwaters rise.”

Video reports from several towns in the Carolinas showed emergency personnel wading through rippling thigh-high floodwaters in residential neighborhoods.

President Donald Trump is expected to travel to areas hit by Florence next week, once it is determined his travel will not disrupt any rescue or recovery efforts, the White House said on Friday.

‘IT’S INSANE’

Florence also blew down trees, including one that went through the roof of Kevin DiLoreto’s home in Wilmington. He said all roads leading to his neighborhood were blocked by fallen trees.

“It’s insane,” he said in a phone interview. “Everybody laughs at the fact that this storm got downgraded … but I’ve never seen tree devastation this bad.

“Afterwards, I’m going to drink a bottle of whiskey and take a two-day nap, but right now I’m walking the neighborhood and making sure my neighbors are fine, because nobody can get in here.”

More than 722,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and South Carolina early on Friday, utility officials said. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and restoration could take weeks.

Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds on Thursday but dropped to Category 1 before coming ashore. It is expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said. Significant weakening is expected over the weekend.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia. Some of those who stayed went to shelters while others stuck it out in their homes.

Maysie Baumgardner, 7, and her family sheltered at the Hotel Ballast in downtown Wilmington as Florence filled the streets with floodwaters.

“It looks heavy outside,” she said. “I’m a little bit scared right now, but I have my iPad and I’m watching Netflix.”

Florence was one of two major storms on Friday. In the Philippines, evacuations were under way with Super Typhoon Mangkhut expected to hit on Saturday in an area impacting an estimated 5.2 million people.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh; Scott DiSavino and Gina Cherelus in New York; Makini Brice in Washington; Andy Sullivan in Columbia, South Carolina; and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)

Wind, flooded roads herald approach of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina

The Union Point Park Complex is seen flooded as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Ernest Scheyder and Anna Mehler Paperny

WILMINGTON/WASHINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – The outer reaches of Hurricane Florence began lashing coastal North Carolina with heavy winds and flooded roads on Thursday ahead of an expected landfall that will bring walls of water and lingering downpours.

The center of Florence is expected to hit North Carolina’s southern coast Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, enough time to drop as much as 40 inches (1 meter) of rain in places, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Pararescue personnel from the Alaska Air National Guard's 212th Rescue Squadron, 176th Wing, and California ANG's 131st Rescue Squadron, 129th Rescue Wing, settle into a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in preparation for offering support to Hurricane Florence relief operations, at Moffett Federal Airfield, California, in this September 12, 2018 handout photo. Staff Sgt. Balinda O'Neal Dresel/U.S. Army National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Pararescue personnel from the Alaska Air National Guard’s 212th Rescue Squadron, 176th Wing, and California ANG’s 131st Rescue Squadron, 129th Rescue Wing, settle into a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in preparation for offering support to Hurricane Florence relief operations, at Moffett Federal Airfield, California, in this September 12, 2018 handout photo. Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel/U.S. Army National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

An estimated 10 million people live in the storm’s path, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center, and coastal businesses and homes were boarded up in anticipation. More than 1 million people had been ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia and thousands moved to emergency shelters, officials said.

Florence’s maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 105 miles per hour (165 kph) after it was downgraded to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the NHC. The winds had been as high as 140 mph earlier in the week.

Some people who had rejected calls to evacuate the targeted area took walks along the water as they tried to enjoy a few final hours of normalcy before Florence’s fury arrived.

In Sea Breeze, Roslyn Fleming, 56, made a video of the inlet where her granddaughter was baptized because “I just don’t think a lot of this is going to be here” after the storm.

Ten miles (16 km) away in Wilmington, wind gusts were stirring up frothy white caps into the Cape Fear River.

“We’re a little worried about the storm surge so we came down to see what the river is doing now,” said Linda Smith, 67, a retired nonprofit director. “I am frightened about what’s coming. We just want prayers from everyone.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned against complacency.

“Hurricane Florence was uninvited but she’s just about here anyway,” he said at a news conference. “Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality.”

An Army member walks near the flooded Union Point Park Complex as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

An Army member walks near the flooded Union Point Park Complex as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

FLOODING, POWER OUTAGES BEGIN

The storm’s center was about 110 miles (180 km) east of Wilmington, North Carolina, at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) but tropical storm-strength winds and heavy rains already were hitting North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier islands. The main highway in the Outer Banks was closed in parts as seawater pushed in. Flooding from rain and rising rivers also was reported in New Bern.

Some 11,000 power outages have been reported in North Carolina.

The hurricane center also said the threat of tornadoes was increasing as the storm neared shore.

Florence could bring wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet (4 meters) and NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook they could push in as far as 2 miles (3 km). Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachian mountains, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

The storm will be a test of President Donald Trump’s administration less than two months before elections to determine control of Congress. After criticism for its response in Puerto Rico to last year’s Hurricane Maria, which officials there said was responsible for 3,000 deaths, Trump has vowed a vigorous response to Florence and defended his handling of Maria.

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump said on Twitter. “When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths … Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000.”

Trump provided no evidence to support his challenge on Maria.

Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Millions of people are expected to lose power and it could take weeks to resolve the outages.

Near the beach in Wilmington, a Waffle House restaurant, part of a chain with a reputation for staying open during disasters, had no plans to close, even if power is lost. It had long lines on Thursday.

GRAPHIC: Hurricane Florence heads toward Carolinas – https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZ5m1v

GRAPHIC: Forecast rainfall in inches from Hurricane Florence – https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZFKSb

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Carlo Allegri in Wilmington, Mana Raibee in Sea Breeze, North Carolina, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Brendan O’Brien and Bill Trott; Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)

North Carolina feels first bite of mammoth Hurricane Florence

A man walks his dogs before Hurricane Florence comes ashore on Carolina Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Coastal North Carolina felt the first bite of Hurricane Florence on Thursday as winds began to rise, a prelude to the slow-moving tempest that forecasters warned would cause catastrophic flooding across a wide swath of the U.S. southeast.

The center of Florence, no longer classified as a major hurricane but still posing a grave threat to life and property, is expected to hit North Carolina’s southern coast Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, enough time to drop feet of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Businesses and homes in the storm’s path were boarded up and thousands of people had moved to emergency shelters, officials said, urging anyone who remained near the coast to flee. Millions were expected to lose power, perhaps for weeks.

“There is still time to leave,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told “CBS This Morning” on Thursday. “This is an extremely dangerous situation.”

Florence’s maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 110 miles per hour (175 kph) after it was downgraded to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the NHC. The storm was about 170 miles (275 km) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour (63 kph) extended outward up to 195 miles (315 km) from its center and were due to begin raking North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier islands around 8 a.m. (1200 GMT) before stretching over low-lying areas reaching from Georgia north into Virginia.

The rain posed a greater danger, forecasters warned, with some spots getting as much as 40 inches (1 m) of precipitation, enough to cause devastating flash floods miles from the coast.

In all, an estimated 10 million people live in areas expected to be placed under a hurricane or storm advisory, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. More than one million people had been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Besides inundating the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet (four meters) along the Carolina coast, Florence could dump 20 to 30 inches (51-76 cm) of rain over much of the region.

If it stalls over land, downpours and flooding would be especially severe. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

 

TEST FOR TRUMP

The storm will be a test of President Donald Trump’s administration less than two months before elections that will determine control of Congress. After facing severe criticism for its handling of last year’s Hurricane Maria, which killed some 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, Trump has vowed a vigorous response.

“We are completely ready for hurricane Florence, as the storm gets even larger and more powerful. Be careful!” Trump said on Twitter.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is in charge of disaster response, has come under investigation over his use of government vehicles, Politico reported on Thursday.

Emergency declarations were in force in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Emergency preparations included activating more than 2,700 National Guard troops, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so major roads led away from shore, and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the Carolinas and Virginia.

Some in Wilmington could not resist getting one last look at their downtown before the storm hit.

“We just thought we’d go out while we still can,” said Amy Baxter, on a walk near the city’s waterfront with her husband, two sons, and dog.

Baxter, a 46-year-old homemaker, and her family plan to ride out Florence at home with board games and playing cards.

“We live in a house that’s more than 100 years old,” Baxter said. “We feel pretty safe.”

(For graphic on forecast rainfall in inches from Hurricane Florence, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZFKSb)

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Scott Malone)

Carolina coast battening down, boarding up as hurricane nears

Caitie Sweeney of Myrtle Beach texts her family while visiting the beach ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. REUTERS/Randall Hill

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Beach communities in North and South Carolina emptied out on Wednesday as Hurricane Florence threatened to unleash pounding surf and potentially deadly flooding as the most powerful storm to make a direct hit on the southeastern states in decades.

Florence had maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour) and was on a trajectory that showed its center most likely to strike the southern coast of North Carolina by Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Updated NHC forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast, bringing days of heavy rains that could bring intense inland flooding from South Carolina, where some areas could see as much as 40 inches (1m) of rain, to Virginia.

Florence is rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. Jeff Byard of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) invoked a former boxing champion to warn residents that it would bring “a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.”

“The time to prepare is almost over,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper at a Wednesday morning news conference. “Disaster is at the doorstep and it’s coming in.”

More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastline of the three states, while university campuses, schools and factories were being shuttered.

The NHC said the first tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour (63 kph) would hit the region early on Thursday with the storm’s center reaching the coast Friday. At 8 a.m. (1200 GMT) on Wednesday the storm was located about 530 miles (855 km) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.

The storm surge, or wind-driven seawater, poses a huge danger, FEMA Administrator Brock Long warned on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“People do not live and survive to tell the tale about what their experience is like with storm surge,” he said. “It’s the most deadly part of the hurricane that comes in.”

FEMA FUNDS MOVED

MSNBC reported the Trump administration had diverted nearly $10 billion from FEMA to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which leads border enforcement. But that has not affected the response to Florence, Byard told a news conference.

He said there was “well over $20 billion” in FEMA’s disaster relief fund.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Twitter warned of the storm’s dangers and praised his administration’s handling of past hurricanes, rejecting criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria last year in Puerto Rico. Some 3,000 people died in the aftermath of that storm.

“Hurricane Florence is looking even bigger than anticipated,” Trump said. “We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!”

State and federal officials have frequently urged residents in the target zone to evacuate but there was resistance along the coast.

“I’m not approaching Florence from fear or panic,” said Brad Corpening, 35, who planned to ride out the storm in his boarded-up delicatessen in Wilmington. “It’s going to happen. We just need to figure out how to make it through.”

The last hurricane rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson to plow directly into North Carolina was Hazel in 1954, a devastating storm that killed 19 people.

Emergency preparations in the area included setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so that all major roads led away from shore and getting 16 nuclear reactors ready in the three-state region for the storm.

(For graphic on Hurricane Florence heads toward Carolinas, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZ5m1v)

(For graphic on forecast rainfall in inches from Hurricane Florence, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZFKSb)

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)

Hurricane Florence set for ‘direct hit’ on U.S. east coast

Trent Bullard fills gas containers for his generator ahead of Hurricane Florence in Pembroke, North Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver

By Anna Driver

HOLDEN BEACH, N.C. (Reuters) – More than 1 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes along the U.S. southeast coast as Hurricane Florence, the most powerful storm to threaten the Carolinas in nearly three decades, barreled closer on Tuesday.

Florence, a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 miles per hour (210 kph), was expected to make landfall on Friday, most likely in North Carolina near the South Carolina border, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for both North Carolina and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and resources for storm response.

“This storm is not going to be a glancing blow. This storm is going to be a direct hit on our coast,” said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We are planning for devastation.”

The slow-moving storm was about 905 miles (1,455 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 11 a.m. EDT, according to the NHC, which warned the storm was expected to strengthen with life-threatening storm surge possible along the coasts of North and South Carolina.

Residents boarded up their homes and stripped grocery stores bare of food, water and supplies. The South Carolina Highway Patrol sent “flush cars” eastbound on major highways to clear traffic before reversing lanes on major roadways to speed the evacuation.

“This is still a very dangerous storm. We must take it very seriously,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said at a Tuesday news conference. “We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence.”

McMaster lifted an earlier evacuation order for parts of three southern coastal counties – Jasper, Beaufort and Colleton – but left them in effect for the state’s northern coast and urged residents to flee.

Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, said classes would be canceled after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, joining other colleges in the state making similar plans.

The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze departs Naval Station Norfolk to ride out the storm in the Atlantic Ocean ahead of Hurricane Florence, in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S. September 10, 2018. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert/Handout via REUTERS

The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze departs Naval Station Norfolk to ride out the storm in the Atlantic Ocean ahead of Hurricane Florence, in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S. September 10, 2018. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert/Handout via REUTERS

12-FOOT STORM SURGE

In addition to flooding the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 12 feet (3.7 m), Florence could drop 20 inches to as much as 30 inches (51 cm to 76 cm) of rain in places, posing the risk of deadly flooding miles inland, forecasters said. They warned the storm could linger for days after making landfall.

Wall Street was sniffing out companies that could gain or lose at the storm’s hands. Generator maker Generac Holdings Inc rose 2.2 percent and reached its highest price since April 2014.

Insurers Allstate Corp and Travelers Companies Inc were up slightly in early trade after falling sharply on Monday on worries about claims losses.

At least 250,000 more people were due to be evacuated from the northern Outer Banks barrier islands in North Carolina on Tuesday.

Vance McGougan, 57, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and his family did not wait for the noon deadline to evacuate a rented house at Holden Beach, about two hours away.

“We had already decided … that it was prudent for us to get on the road,” McGougan said.

Two years ago, when Hurricane Matthew crossed Fayetteville, McGougan said his house was without power for five days.

Classified as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, Florence is the most severe storm to threaten the U.S. mainland this year.

The United States was hit with a series of high-powered hurricanes last year, including Hurricane Maria, which killed some 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, and Hurricane Harvey, which killed about 68 people and caused an estimated $1.25 billion in damage with catastrophic flooding in Houston.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Liz Hampton in Houston, Susan Heavey in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Alden Bentley in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Zieminski; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)

Evacuations in North Carolina as hurricane Florence roars closer

A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Rich McKay and Letitia Stein

(Reuters) – North Carolina officials on Monday ordered residents to evacuate the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands beginning on Monday ahead of Hurricane Florence, the first major hurricane to threaten the eastern United States this year.

With winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kph), the storm had reached Category 3 strength on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale by 11 a.m. on (1500 GMT) on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

It warned the storm would be “an extremely dangerous major hurricane” by the time it made landfall, forecast in the Carolinas on Thursday.

The hurricane was gaining strength as it traveled over warm Atlantic waters, about 1,240 miles (2,000 km) east-southwest of Cape Fear, North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

A beachfront home is boarded up ahead of Hurricane Florence, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver

A beachfront home is boarded up ahead of Hurricane Florence, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver

All of Hatteras Island was under mandatory evacuation order and other parts of the Outer Banks will have to evacuate by 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) on Tuesday, Dare County Emergency Management said in a statement.

Hurricane-force winds could buffet the Carolinas by Wednesday night with landfall likely in South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday, followed by heavy rains that could cause flooding in much of the U.S. Southeast, the NHC said.

The governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina all declared states of emergency.

Residents as far north as Virginia were warned that Florence could bring a life-threatening coastal storm surge, as well as inland flooding from “prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall,” the NHC said.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urged his state’s residents to get ready, noting the storm was generating swelling waves and dangerous currents.

NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said historically, 90 percent of fatalities from hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions have been caused by water. Some 27 percent of the deaths have come from rain-driven flooding, sometimes hundreds of miles inland.

The NHC also was tracking two other hurricanes farther out in the Atlantic.

Isaac strengthened into the fifth hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season on Sunday, the NHC said, and as of early Monday, it was about 1,230 miles east 1,305 miles (1,985 km) east of the Windward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).

Hurricane Helene was spinning in the Atlantic off West Africa’s Cape Verde islands with 85-mph (140-kph) winds on Monday but did not appear to pose an immediate threat to land.

As Florence gathered strength far out in the Atlantic, Wall Street was trying to pick winners and losers from any havoc it might cause.

Generac Holdings Inc, building materials maker Owens Corning and roofing supplier Beacon Roofing Supply Inc, which were up between 4 percent and 8 percent. Retailers Lowe’s Companies Inc and Home Depot Inc gained more than 2 percent.

On the downside, several insurers that are seen vulnerable to potential claims losses slipped, led by a 1.8 percent drop in Allstate Corp and a 1.7 percent decline in Travelers Companies Inc.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott)

Storm Gordon starts kicking up waves on U.S. Gulf Coast

Tropical Storm Gordon is pictured nearing Florida, U.S. in this September 2, 2018 NASA satellite handout photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Waves began to batter parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast on Tuesday as the region felt the first hit of Tropical Storm Gordon, which is expected to become a hurricane before it comes ashore with high winds and heavy rain, forecasters said.

The storm also caused a jump in global oil prices after the evacuation of two oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gordon was due to come ashore late on Tuesday near the border between Louisiana and Mississippi, and drop as much as 12 inches (30 cm) of rain in areas still recovering from last year’s hurricanes, the National Hurricane Center said.

Currently carrying winds of around 65 miles per hour (105 km per hour), the storm was expected to pack hurricane-force winds – of at least 74 mph (119 kph) – when it reached the north-central Gulf Coast, the center said.

High surf was already hitting Alabama’s Dauphin Island early Tuesday, the National Weather Service office in Mobile said on Twitter.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and said 200 Louisiana National Guardsmen were being deployed, along with 63 high-water trucks, 39 boats, and four helicopters.

Trees sway as Storm Gordon descends on Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., September 3, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @Saralina77/via REUTERS

Trees sway as Storm Gordon descends on Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., September 3, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @Saralina77/via REUTERS

New Orleans’ mayor, LaToya Cantrell, declared her own state of emergency and closed all non-essential government offices.

Storm surge of as much as 5 feet (1.5 m) could hit a stretch of coast from Shell Beach, Louisiana, to Dauphin Island, Alabama, forecasters said. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency told South Mississippi residents to be prepared to evacuate.

As of Tuesday morning, Gordon was located about 190 miles (305 km) east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and was heading west-northwest, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

U.S. oil producer Anadarko Petroleum Corp evacuated workers and shut production at two offshore oil platforms on Monday, and other companies with production and refining operations along the Gulf Coast said they were securing facilities.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 percent of U.S. crude oil and 5 percent of natural gas output daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than 45 percent of the nation’s refining capacity is located along the Gulf Coast.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the ports of New Orleans as well as Gulfport and Pascagoula, Mississippi, may have to close within 48 hours.

Maintenance crew work near power lines during an outage after Storm Gordon descended on Miami Beach, Florida, U.S., September 3, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @ZwebackHD/via REUTERS

Maintenance crew work near power lines during an outage after Storm Gordon descended on Miami Beach, Florida, U.S., September 3, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @ZwebackHD/via REUTERS

Last year, powerful hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, causing thousands of deaths, hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage and massive power outages.

Gordon passed over Florida’s southern tip on Monday afternoon. There were no reports of any injuries or deaths or any damage to buildings, said Alberto Moscoso, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

(Reporting Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Louise Heavens, Andrew Heavens and Frances Kerry)