Residents in the United States fleeing the potentially devastating Hurricane Florence have emptied store shelves, depleted petrol reserves and been warned not to stay and protect their homes against the “monster” storm.
The hurricane, which is nearing the Carolina coast with 225 km/h winds and drenching rain, could last for days and cause destruction for the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the country’s east coast.
While some said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings, many weren’t taking any chances.
GALLERY: Motorists stream inland as Hurricane Florence evacuations ramp up
A steady stream of vehicles full of people and belongings flowed inland yesterday, and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper tried to convince everyone to flee.
“The waves and the wind this storm may bring is nothing like you’ve ever seen,” he said.
“Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”
Forecasters said Florence was expected to blow ashore late tomorrow or early Friday, then slow down and dump more than half-a-metre of rain that could cause flooding inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
President Donald Trump has declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina and Virginia, opening the way for federal aid. He said the federal government is “absolutely, totally prepared” for Florence.
All three states ordered mass evacuations along the coast, but getting out of harm’s way could prove difficult.
READ MORE: What makes Hurricane Florence so scary
Michelle Stober loaded up valuables yesterday at her home on Wrightsville Beach to take back to her primary residence in Cary, North Carolina. She said finding fuel for the journey was tough.
“This morning I drove around for an hour looking for gas in Cary. Everyone was sold out,” she said.
People across the region rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies, board up their homes, pull their boats out of the water and get out of town.
Long lines also formed at service stations, and some started running out of petrol as far west as Raleigh, with bright yellow bags, signs or rags placed over the pumps to show they were out of order.
“There’s no water. There’s no juices. There’s no canned goods,” Kristin Harrington said as she shopped at a Walmart in Wilmington.
At 11pm local time last night, the storm was centred more than 1000km southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 28 km/h.
At that speed, it is a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm but is expected to keep drawing energy from the warm water and intensify to near Category 5, which means winds of 253 km/h or higher.
Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Isaac was east of the Lesser Antilles and expected to pass south of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba, while Hurricane Helene was moving northward away from land.
The coastal surge from Florence could leave the eastern tip of North Carolina under almost three metres of seawater in spots, projections have showed.
“This one really scares me,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said.
Federal officials have begged residents to put together emergency kits and have a plan on where to go.
“This storm is going to knock out power days into weeks. It’s going to destroy infrastructure. It’s going to destroy homes,” said Jeff Byard, an official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Forecasters said parts of North Carolina could get 50cm of rain, if not more, with as much as 25cm elsewhere in the state and in Virginia, parts of Maryland and Washington DC.
Florence’s projected path includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in huge lagoons.
Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said operators would begin shutting down nuclear plants at least two hours before hurricane-force winds arrive.
North Carolina’s governor issued what he called a first-of-its-kind mandatory evacuation order for North Carolina’s fragile barrier islands from one end of the coast to the other. Typically, local governments in North Carolina make the call on evacuations.
“We’ve seen nor’easters and we’ve seen hurricanes before,” Cooper said, “but this one is different.”
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2018