Published: 2018-09-11 13:55:00
Updated: 2018-09-11 17:59:38
Posted September 11, 2018 1:55 p.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2018 5:59 p.m. EDT
By Matthew Burns, WRAL.com senior producer/politics editor
Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday issued what his administration said is the first state evacuation order in North Carolina, telling people to leave the state's barrier islands.
"This storm is a monster. It's big, and it's vicious. It is an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane," Cooper said at a news conference outlining state preparations in advance of the storm.
Florence is a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 130 mph. The National Hurricane Center said it will weaken slightly before making landfall Thursday but will still be a major Category 3 storm.
People who don't follow evacuation orders put not only themselves but also first responders at risk if they need to rescued during the storm, Cooper said.
"The waves and the wind this storm may bring are 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."
North Carolina traditionally allows city and county officials to determine emergency evacuations. The governor noted his state order is a first as far as he knows, but he said he believes it's necessary.
"We think this storm is so fierce that we need the added incentive of a state evacuation order to make sure that these people on the barrier islands leave," he said.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued a state evacuation order Monday for that state's coastal residents. Eastbound Interstate 26 into Charleston was closed Tuesday, freeing up those lanes for people to leave the area.
North Carolina has multiple routes leading out and no major population center along the coast to evacuate, so it doesn't need to take such drastic steps, Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said.
"All our routes are green," Trogdon said. "We believe, with this kind of lead time, our existing facilities and infrastructure will support our evacuation needs."
Inland North Carolina residents should also continue preparing for Florence, Cooper said.
Forecasts call for the system to stall over the state and drench it for days, leading to extensive power outages and flooding.
"We cannot expect this storm to blow over in a matter of hours," Cooper said, noting rainfall will be measured in feet instead of inches in some areas. "The time to hope Hurricane Florence away is gone."
President Donald Trump has approved Cooper's request for an early disaster declaration, which will allow relief efforts to begin as soon as the storm passes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up a base at Fort Bragg, and Mike Sprayberry, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, said water rescue teams will be staged there to fan out to areas as needed.
The Global TransPark in Kinston also will serve as a hub for relief supplies and rescue crews, Trogdon said.
The DOT has 1,200 trucks and 1,000 chainsaws ready to clear debris from highways so relief personnel and supplies can get where they need to go, he said.
"We will get through this," Cooper said. "We've weathered tough hurricanes before, and we will do it again."