US: Florence begins slow assault on Carolinas

By Umar Farooq

WASHINGTON (AA) – Heavy rains and strong winds on the outer rings of Hurricane Florence began to hit the Outer Banks region of North Carolina on Thursday, with the storm expected to slowly reach the Carolinas by the end of the day.

Florence is currently a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind scale, and has winds are at 105 mph (165 kmh) according to the latest data from the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The most severe reading is Category 5.

The National Weather Service expects Florence to drop 20 – 30 inches (50 – 76 centimeters) of rain, with some areas receiving up to 40 inches (100 centimeters), and called the expected deluge "hard to comprehend."

The storm is expected to slowly move into North and South Carolina on Thursday, and conditions are expected to get worse. Rain intensity will pick up, as will wind speed and the storm surge is expected to reach up to 13 feet in some areas.

"This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding," the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned.

Georgia joined a number of east coast states Wednesday in declaring a state of emergency. So far, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and the Washington D.C. have all declared states of emergencies.

Earlier this week, more than 1 million people were ordered to evacuate the coastlines of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

While the hurricane fell in intensity from a Category 4, officials are saying its new classification does not lessen the danger. In fact, the NHC noted that the wind field of the storm has increased in size.

"Do not let your guard down with the changing #Florence forecast. Our region will be seeing a lot of rain, wind, and flooding this week so #BePrepared," the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said on Twitter.

The storm is shaping up to be the costliest in U.S. history with an estimate compiled by analytics firm CoreLogic putting the price tag at around $170 billion. The firm estimated 759,000 homes and businesses could be damaged.

"We cannot underestimate this storm. Our greatest concern about this storm remains the same — storm surge and massive flooding," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said in a tweet.

The NHC also warned in addition to the hurricane, a few tornados could possibly emerge Friday in North Carolina.