CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A State of Emergency was declared Monday on North Carolina's Hatteras Island, with islanders and tourists leading what is expected to be a complete evacuation of coastal Dare and Hyde counties.
Dare County Emergency Management officials issued the order just hours before the National Hurricane Center upgraded Hurricane Florence from a Category 2 Hurricane to Category 4, which means it has sustained winds of 130 to 156 mph.
Hyde County also issued a state of emergency and a mandatory evacuation order for all island visitors immediately and for residents starting Tuesday at 5 a.m.
Neighboring Currituck County also declared a State of Emergency Monday, and is asking vacationers and guests to evacuate the Outer Banks communities of Corolla and Carova starting Tuesday at 7 a.m. The order does not include all Currituck County residents at this time.
The storm's trajectory is on track to hit central North Carolina coastal counties Thursday, bringing potential floods and a threat of tornadoes, said Dare County officials.
The Dare County Schools announced in a Monday tweet that the system will be closed for all students and staff Sept. 11 through the remainder of the week.
The first wave of Dare County evacuations, starting at noon Monday, included the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras Village, said a Dare County statement.
A second wave on Tuesday will include the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Manteo and Roanoke Island, officials said.
"Everyone in Dare County is encouraged to evacuate as soon as possible regardless of the established time frames," said a statement from Dare County Emergency Management statement.
Hurricane Florence is expected to "bring life-threatening storm surge, tropical storm force winds, heavy rains and the potential for tornadoes" to Dare and other coastal counties, said the National Weather Service.
"Even a small northward shift in the track of the storm could bring devastating impacts to our area," said the Dare County Emergency Management statement.
Dare County officials have asked tourists to take all their personal belongings with them as they evacuate, warning that re-entry to the evacuated areas may not be allowed, according to the statement.
The Town of Nags Head said traffic to gas stations was backed up onto the highway as people prepared to evacuate.
North Carolina ferries were set to help with the Ocracoke Island evacuation in Hyde County, the North Carolina Department of Transportation said in a news release on Monday.
"Only residents, homeowners, or vendors with an Ocracoke re-entry sticker on their vehicles will be allowed on ferries inbound to Ocracoke. Priority boarding will be suspended for all vessels leaving Ocracoke, and tolls have been waived for ferries heading from Ocracoke to Cedar Island or Swan Quarter," the news release said.
"This is the biggest storm to head for our coast in decades," said Harold Thomas, ferry division director. "We hope everyone on Ocracoke Island will take heed and leave as soon as possible."
The National Weather Service has predicted 9 to 12.5 inches of rain will fall in some of the state's coastal counties between Thursday and Monday, Sept 17.
©2018 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)