A coastal North Carolina county on Monday issued a mandatory evacuation order for its entire population as a Hurricane Florence strengthened to a Category 3 storm and continued its slow but angry dance toward the U.S. East Coast. The National Hurricane Center said Florence is expected to slam into the coast around North and South Carolina as a Category 3 hurricane on Thursday or Friday. The storm’s winds had increased to 115 mph on Monday. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said he had asked President Trump for a federal disaster declaration ahead of the storm. Dare County officials ordered everyone to leave Hatteras Island on Monday. Residents and visitors in popular tourist spots such as Duck and Corolla faced a Tuesday deadline. Dare County has a year-round population of more than 30,000 people, but the population balloons during tourist seasons. It was not immediately clear how many people.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to continue growing in strength through the day. The center of Florence was forecast to sweep between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday before making its assault on the U.S. coast. “Florence is forecast to become a major hurricane this morning, and is expected to remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday,” the hurricane center warned. The hurricane center warned that the swells are likely to cause “life-threatening” surf and current conditions. Even before the evacuation order, Dare County emergency officials warned that rough seas and strong rip currents are already creating dangerous conditions. Satellite imagery indicated that the maximum sustained winds have increased to near 105 mph with higher gusts. A “major” hurricane is one with sustained winds of more than 110 mph. Any Category 3, 4, or 5 hurricane is classified as a major hurricane. Some portions of the Carolinas could see as much as 20 inches of rain from Florence, which would lead to river flooding that “could last for days or weeks” after the storm. The Weather Channel warned of a “disastrous” level of flooding for parts of the area. The hurricane center’s breakdown of storm strength says Category 3 storms can bring “devastating” destruction. Homes can be damaged, trees uprooted and electricity and water can be knocked out for days or weeks, the center warns.