Hurricane Florence strongest storm to target Carolinas in decades, FEMA official says

Hurricane Florence is the strongest storm to target the Carolinas and Virginia region “in decades,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday in issuing dire warnings for the hundreds of thousands of people ordered to evacuate before the Category 4 storm makes landfall.

“We cannot stress the importance to our citizens that are in evacuations to heed the local and state warnings,” Jeffrey Byard, FEMA’s associate administrator for response and recovery, said at a news conference. "Hurricane Florence is the strongest storm to target the Carolinas and this part of our country in decades."

Byard said that there was nothing currently projected to slow down or weaken the storm, and that FEMA expected "massive damage," including power outages and infrastructure damage.

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Preparations made ahead of Florence
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Preparations made ahead of Florence
Houses are seen near high tide on September 11, 2018 in on Topsail Island, North Carolina, where many homes, already battling flooding and beach erosion, aren't sure what to expect with the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 10: In this NOAA satellite handout image, shows Hurricane Florence (C) as it gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda moving west on September 10, 2018. Hurricane Isaac and Helene can be seen to the east of Florence. Weather predictions say the storm will likely hit the U.S. East Coast as early as Thursday, September 13 bringing massive winds and rain. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
Residents evacuate from coastal areas near Wallace, North Carolina, on September 11, 2018. - Hurricane Florence would deliver a 'direct hit' to the US East Coast, emergency officials warned on September 11, 2018, urging residents to heed evacuation orders and seek shelter from the potentially catastrophic storm. More than one million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been told to flee their homes as the hurricane churns across the Atlantic Ocean towards the coast. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
The pumps at the Shell gas station on Western Boulevard featured 'out of gas' signs as people prepared to ride out Hurricane Florence on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
South Carolina National Guard soldiers transfer bulk diesel fuel into fuel tanker trucks for distribution in advance of Hurricane Florence, in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Brian Calhoun/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Hurricane Florence seen over the Atlantic Ocean, about 750 miles southeast of Bermuda in this handout photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on September 9, 2018. NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill
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. Picture taken September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
Boarded up houses are seen ahead of Hurricane Florence� expected landfall, 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
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. Picture taken September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
A county worker drives astride the levy along Lowery Street September 10, 2018 in Lumberton, North Carolina, ahead of Hurricane Florence. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused catrostraphic flooding in Lumberton. - More than a million people were ordered to evacuate the path of Hurricane Florence as the Category 4 storm packing winds of 130 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) bore down on the East Coast of the United States. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told up to one million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the powerful storm's arrival on Thursday. The governor of neighboring North Carolina also ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks and parts of coastal Dare County while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
The water treatment facility sits along Lowery Street in Lumberton, North Carolina, September 10, 2018. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused catrostraphic flooding in Lumberton as well as the water treatment plant, causing thousands without water. - More than a million people were ordered to evacuate the path of Hurricane Florence as the Category 4 storm packing winds of 130 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) bore down on the East Coast of the United States. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told up to one million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the powerful storm's arrival on Thursday. The governor of neighboring North Carolina also ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks and parts of coastal Dare County while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Tarek Elshik, left, fills gas cans to fuel a generator to refrigerate insulin for his 10-year-old daughter Yasmeen Elshik's Type 1 diabetes treatment in case power goes out during Hurricane Florence, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the Exxon station on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Tarek Elshik fills gas cans to fuel a generator to refrigerate insulin for his 10-year-old daughter Yasmeen Elshik's Type 1 diabetes treatment in case power goes out during Hurricane Florence, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the Exxon station on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media following a briefing on Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office at the White House September 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by ZACH GIBSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Vehicles line up September 11, 2018 as they exit Surf City, North Carolina, following a mandatory evacuation order and curfew ahead of the arrival of Hurrican Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Houses are seen near high tide on September 11, 2018 in on Topsail Island, North Carolina, where many homes, already battling flooding and beach erosion, aren't sure what to expect with the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Signs warn customers that alcohol sales are suspended at an Exxon station in Harbinger, North Carolina on September 11, 2018. - From Charleston's colonial mansions with finely-crafted balustrades, to fragile Outer Banks beaches, to exalted centers of American history, the tourism-heavy US East Coast is facing a potentially devastating blow from Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents evacuate from coastal areas near Wallace, North Carolina, on September 11, 2018. - Hurricane Florence would deliver a 'direct hit' to the US East Coast, emergency officials warned on September 11, 2018, urging residents to heed evacuation orders and seek shelter from the potentially catastrophic storm. More than one million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been told to flee their homes as the hurricane churns across the Atlantic Ocean towards the coast. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
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"This storm will and has the potential to cause loss of life, and we cannot emphasize the importance to take action now," said Byard.

As of Tuesday morning, the storm was about 400 miles south of Bermuda and moving west-northwest at 15 mph. The first outer rain bands from Florence could move into the Outer Banks of the Carolinas and southeast Virginia on Wednesday night, said FEMA's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration liaison Steve Goldstein.

Hurricane-force winds could extend inland into central North Carolina and central Virginia later in the day on Thursday and a large area of tropical storm-force winds were expected to last until Friday, he added.

Florence is expected to approach the coast of the Carolinas around Friday morning, according to NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins. The storm is expected to stall around Friday into Sunday, but still could potentially lead to both historic rainfall and severe inland flooding, Karins said.

Goldstein predicted potential rainfall totals of 15 to 20 inches.

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Named storms during the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season
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Named storms during the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season
Subtropical Storm Alberto is pictured nearing the Florida Panhandle in this May 27, 2018 NASA handout photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Hurricane Beryl on the morning of July 6, 2018 over the open waters of the tropical Atlantic as seen by GOES-16. (Photo via NASA/NOAA)
Tropical Storm Chris is shown off the eastern coast of North and South Carolina, U.S., in this satellite image July 9, 2018 at 16:12 UTC. NOAA/Goes-East Imagery/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY
Tropical Storm Gordon is pictured nearing Florida, U.S. in this September 3, 2018 NASA satellite handout photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Tropical Storm Gordon is pictured nearing Florida, U.S. in this September 2, 2018 NASA satellite handout photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper extended a mandatory evacuation in the state to the Outer Banks barrier islands during a Tuesday afternoon news conference warning civilians to prepare for the major storm and heed evacuation orders.

"Hurricane Florence will affect each and every one of you," he said. "This storm is a monster, it's big and it's vicious."

"Even if you've ridden out storms before, this one is different," he added. "Don't bet your life on riding out a monster."

Earlier Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster lifted a mandatory noon evacuation deadline for the southern counties of Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper, with the exception of Edisto Beach, based on updated forecast predictions. Evacuations remained mandatory for the rest of the coast.

"We must be vigilant," McMaster said. "We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence."

The mayor of Washington, D.C., declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, joining governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. West Virginia has declared a state of preparedness.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the government and FEMA were prepared to respond to the storm, but acknowledged there was a chance the storm could strongly hit the East Coast.

"We are absolutely and totally prepared," he said.

North and South Carolina are anticipated to bear the brunt of Florence, which the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday was packing maximum sustained winds of near 130 mph as of 8 a.m. ET.

Hurricane and storm surge watches have been issued for the East Coast of the United States, from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, northward to the North Carolina-Virginia border, including the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds. The warnings mean there is a possibility of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline and hurricane conditions.

Florence's center will move over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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