President Trump said Tuesday that the federal government is “totally prepared” for Hurricane Florence and declared states of emergency in Virginia and the Carolinas after meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long. Mr. Trump’s declaration allows for federal assistance in hard-hit areas.
“The safety of the American people is my absolute highest priority,” the president during a televised briefing, adding that the approaching storm would be “tremendously big and tremendously wet.”
The Category 4 storm is in the Atlantic Ocean and is expected to hit the Southeast coast by late Thursday night or early Friday. Some computer models suggest it could stall after making landfall, while others indicate it could roll northward to hit the Washington area Friday and linger until Sunday. Meteorologists struggled Tuesday to identify where exactly the storm will come ashore.
The National Weather Service tentatively predicted between 2 and 4 inches of rain for the Washington area. “If it moves inland from the Carolina coast, then the rains we would get would be less,” said meteorologist Isha Renta. The storm could raise this year’s rain total for the D.C. area to 49.86 inches — beating the 1886 record of 49.54 inches of rain.
The National Weather Service issued coastal flood warnings until Wednesday midnight. The National Hurricane Center predicted Tuesday that Florence could swell to Category 5 hurricane as 1.7 million people from the Carolinas to Virginia have been ordered to evacuate.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of about 245,000 people from Hampton Roads and the state’s Eastern Shore, after having issued a state of emergency Monday.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency Tuesday, and encouraged residents to sign up for text alerts and suggested families create emergency kits with flashlights, city contact numbers and medical supplies. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also has declared a state of emergency.
Federal lawmakers, though, are expected to stay for votes this week: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said “there are no changes to the House schedule at this time.” The Office of Personnel Management has not announced any work schedule changes for the region’s thousands of federal employees.
Ms. Bowser’s emergency order took effect immediately. It enables FEMA assistance for agencies and prohibits businesses from price gouging and profiteering.
“A catastrophic storm system, such as Hurricane Florence, could cause an increase in fuel demand, due to panic buying, leading up to the storm and then reduce demand dramatically post-hurricane,” Mid-Atlantic AAA spokesman John B. Townsend II said Tuesday.
In North Carolina, motorists streamed inland on highways converted to one-way evacuation routes to get out of the way of Florence, which was taking dead aim at the Carolinas with 140 mph winds and potentially ruinous rains, The Associated Press reported.
Florence was expected unload 1 to 2 feet of rain on the Carolinas that could cause flooding well inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
“This storm is a monster. It’s big and it’s vicious. It is an extremely, dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “The waves and the wind this storm may bring is nothing like you’ve ever seen. Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the storm was centered 785 miles southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 17 mph. It was expected to keep drawing energy from the warm water and intensify to near Category 5, which means winds of 157 mph or higher.
In the District, utilities and city agencies were preparing for a windy, watery onslaught.
“With Hurricane Florence expected to bear down on the eastern seaboard in less than 36 hours, Pepco’s full emergency response organization is ready,” the electric utility said Tuesday, noting it was ready to call on “404 contractors and 153 tree-trimming personnel” to supplement its 200-person crew.
A spokeswoman for D.C. Water said the utility was forming 24/7 emergency shifts for the storm and is busy securing a flood wall to protect its Blue Plains Water Treatment Facility overlooking the Potomac River. “We’re getting ready,” said spokeswoman Pamela Mooring. “We’re also staging generators and pumps at locations [in the city] where historically we’ve had some flooding.”
D.C. Water crews also have been dispatched to clean catch basins and remove the cloth linings — called “gutter buddies” — normally installed outside drains to prevent large debris from falling in but which can clog the drains themselves if swift waters pull them down.
Residents are asked to call 311 if they spot any clogged catch basins and call 911 to report downed power lines.
The impending storm is causing a wave of cancellations from Trump rallies in Mississippi and Missouri to Virginia first lady Pamela Northam’s back-to-school tour.
On Tuesday, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs reminded residents that September is National Preparedness Month and advertised a host of disaster preparation workshops. Ironically, all workshops are scheduled for next week onward.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.