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.
“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 afternoon, the storm was about 360 miles south-southwest of Bermuda and moving west-northwest at 17 mph with 140 mph maximum sustained winds, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was expected to bring life-threatening storm surge and rainfall to portions of the Carolinas and the Mid-Atlantic.
“It’s devastating to walk into your house and see it flooded and to think it can happen again, I just don’t have that. So anything I can save, I want to save it.”
Hurricane and storm surge warnings were issued from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Duck, North Carolina, and the Albermarle and Pamlico Sounds. A tropical storm watch was also issued from north of the North Carolina-Virginia border to Cape Charles Light, Virginia, and for the Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.
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.
Allison Violette, a resident of Fayetteville, North Carolina, said she and her husband were moving their belongings to the second floor of their home after Hurricane Matthew flooded the house in 2016.
“It’s devastating to walk into your house and see it flooded and to think it can happen again, I just don’t have that. So anything I can save, I want to save it,” she said.
“I don’t know if we would want to do that again, and experience it. It’s just life-changing,” said her husband Cal Violette.
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.
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.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, resident Maria Nichols said she was preparing to board up her home and evacuate after having gone through several storms in the past.
“I’m about 150 yards from the ocean they are boarding us up right now and I’m leaving,” she said.
She added that she was “absolutely not” taking any chances.
“It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t hit us, they said we need to leave it’s important for us to evacuate, we don’t need to take chances, we don’t need to put personnel on the line and to come and try and save us,” Nichols said.
But Loraine and Mark Taylor, who also live in an evacuation zone in Myrtle Beach, said they would be riding out the storm.
“I’ve been through a lot of storms and we feel like this is our home, and we just going to stay here and protect our own stuff,” Loraine Taylor said.
She added that the community they live in has a lot of retired residents and she and her husband wanted to stay behind in case they needed help.
“I think several of us staying will keep track of each other and make sure everybody is OK, that’s all you can do,” she 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.
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.
This article originally appeared on NBC