'It's coming straight for us': Canadians in Florence's path prepare for worst

Published Wednesday, September 12, 2018 12:13PM EDT
Updated Wednesday, September 12, 2018 2:58PM EDT
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Canadian James Hrynyshyn and his family were drawing up emergency lists and charging battery-operated devices on Wednesday, among the millions diligently preparing for hurricane Florence, a monster storm that's anticipated to make landfall in the Carolinas early Saturday.

"It's coming straight for us," said Hrynyshyn, who grew up in Dryden, Ont., and moved to Saluda, N.C., 13 years ago.

"Saluda is right in the middle of the cone."

The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have issued mandatory evacuation orders for many coastal counties ahead of Florence, which was closing in with terrifying winds of 215 kph and potentially catastrophic rain and storm surge.

Ottawa is warning Canadians to avoid all travel to that stretch of the U.S. East Coast.

Global Affairs Canada issued a statement Wednesday saying the areas to be avoided extend from Edisto Beach in South Carolina to the North Carolina-Virginia border, including Pamlico Sound and Albemarle Sound.

"Everybody is talking about it," said Hrynyshyn, adding the local gas station ran out of fuel earlier in the day and the local electricity utility has dispatched work crews to the coast.

However, he said there's a good chance the storm will blow itself out by the time it reaches his home near the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 380 kilometres from the coast.

His main concern is heavy downpours. Some forecasts were calling for more than 200 millimetres of rain in the western part of the state.

"It's hard to know how serious to take it ... but people are still worried," said Hrynyshyn, a 53-year-old communications consultant who specializes in climate science.

"Apparently there's a lot of uncertainty at this point."

In May, the Saluda area was hit by two rainstorms within 48 hours, causing mudslides that left three people dead, he said.

"It's pretty unusual for us to have extreme weather," Hrynyshyn said. "But like everybody else, we're experiencing more extremes than we used to ... I don't expect to get a catastrophic amount of rain, but nobody predicted the massive amount of rain that we got in May."

Meanwhile, communities along the Carolinas' coast prepared for the expected arrival of Florence, as forecasters warned the massive storm could stall over the area and dump a tremendous amount of rain through the weekend.

In a videotaped message from the White House, President Donald Trump said the government was fully prepared for Florence but urged people to "get out of its way."

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was expected to hover along the southern edge of the North Carolina coast from Thursday night until making landfall Saturday morning.

As well, Global Affairs said Wednesday Canadians should avoid travelling to parts of the Caribbean, including Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique, because tropical storm Isaac is headed in that direction.

"If you reside in the affected areas, you should exercise caution, monitor local news and weather reports and follow the instructions of local authorities, including evacuation orders," the department said in a statement that also advised travellers to download the government's free Travel Smart app to get updated travel advice.

"Canadians should contact their loved ones who may be in harm's way to ensure that they are aware of the latest recommendations."

On the other side of the world, super typhoon Mangkhut is bearing down on parts of southeast Asia, and Global Affairs is warning Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to the Babuyan Islands in the Philippines.

Federal officials are asking Canadians in the affected areas to sign up for the Registration of Canadians Abroad service, which will allow the Canadian government to reach them in case of an emergency.

-- By Michael MacDonald in Halifax