Charleston: Streams of cars clogged roads leading away from the coast of North and South Carolina on Tuesday as residents began fleeing ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence, a powerful Category 4 storm barrelling towards the eastern US states.
While many coastal residents heeded mandatory evacuation orders, others were boarding up homes and businesses and choosing to brave the storm.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned that this would be a grave mistake and said people in evacuation zones "need to get out now."
"This is not a storm that people need to ride out. This is a storm that is historic, maybe once in a lifetime," Cooper told reporters. Up to 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been given voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders, according to emergency management officials, as the storm churns across the Atlantic Ocean towards the coast.
The east-bound lanes of several major highways have been shut down to allow for a smooth flow of traffic inland.
"We are already experiencing heavily impacted traffic on some of the evacuation routes," said Jeff Byard, the associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Forecasters are predicting that Florence will make landfall in the Carolinas late Thursday or early Friday as a Category 3 hurricane. At 2:00 pm (2330 IST), Florence was a Category 4 hurricane packing winds of 215 kilometers per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
It was located 1,360 kms east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving at 17 29 kph in a west-northwest direction. Briefing from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump urged people to heed orders to evacuate, saying "if you are asked to leave, get out."
"This will be a storm that's going to be far larger than we have seen in perhaps decades," Trump said. "We're as ready as anybody has ever been," the president added. "We are sparing no expense." - 'Direct hit'.