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‘Now is the time’ to evacuate Hurricane Florence danger, officials urge

Hurricane Florence's shifting track is adding uncertainty to what forecasters are calling the "storm of a lifetime." It's now projected to slow near the North Carolina-South Carolina border, then head south and west -- changes that could endanger new areas. P.J. Tobia reports on the latest in storm preparation from Wilmington, North Carolina.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hurricane Florence has more than 10 million people across the Southeastern U.S. asking tonight, which way will it go? The target area move south and west today, even as sustained winds drop some to 120 miles an hour.

    P.J. Tobia begins our coverage from Wilmington, North Carolina.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    The storm's enormous mass is clear enough from space, but its path is shifting, meaning growing uncertainty.

    Florence is now projected to slow near the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then make landfall on Saturday. From there, it could turn south and west across South Carolina.

    The changes could endanger new areas. Forecasters are calling it the storm of a lifetime. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials warned today was the last chance to get out of danger.

  • Jeff Byard:

    If you're in an area where it's going to flood or if you're in a mandatory evacuation area or you just don't feel your home is safe, now's the time to evacuate.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Thousands heeded the warnings, and major highways were jammed. That left gas stations with shortages and drivers crowding to fill tanks.

    In North Carolina, local buses were pressed into long-haul service, taking people from Wilmington and other coastal towns to shelters in Raleigh, some 150 miles inland.

    George Alsberg is 103 years old. He has seen many hurricanes before. This is the first that's made him evacuate his home.

  • George Alsberg:

    I have never had occasion to think about it before. This time, it's — I think it's obvious.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    In South Carolina, eastbound lanes on Interstate 26 were reversed, with all traffic moving away from the coast. Those who stayed labor to board up windows and fill sandbags.

    But the mayor of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, near Charleston, said there is only one way to be safe.

  • Will Haynie:

    When you choose to leave and get out of its way, you have more control over your destiny than you do if you choose to stay here.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Civilian and military leaders alike were gauging the potential of 30 inches of rain., hurricane-force winds and power outages over wide areas.

    North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned, the state is in for a sustained battering.

  • Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C.:

    Plan to be without power for days. Understand that the rain may last for days and not hours. And this may be a marathon, not a sprint.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    On the front lines, local official said they're as ready as they can be for what's coming and what comes next.

  • Chris Coudriet:

    The worst of the storm is not here. We think we have got a good evacuation plan, a good shelter plan in place. But we're already planning for what happens after Florence makes impact.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Meanwhile, many of the evacuees face the prospect of days in shelters.

  • Tracy Hargett:

    It's coming right for us, literally right for us. So we were just like, you know what, let's just do this. Let's just go to the shelter. I know we have never done it before. It's kind of scary.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Staff at senior care facilities are also having to make tough choices about whether to evacuate the most vulnerable.

    Ted Goins is president of Lutheran Services Carolinas. He says keeping clients at this senior living facility in Wilmington was the right choice.

  • Ted Goins:

    This building should be able to stand up and not be in any surge or flood zone. So it was a — it was the right decision to make when you consider the problems that you have when you try to transport 100 or almost 100 very debilitated folks.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    He jokingly told me that the facility had a big enough generator to power the entire city of Wilmington. He very seriously told me that they had enough food and, of course, medicine socked away to last for days in case Florence knocked them off the power grid — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, P.J., we heard you say that the nursing homes are making the decision, some of them not to move. What about the elderly senior citizens who are not in nursing homes? What are they saying about them?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Folks at that facility and others who take care of vulnerable and elderly populations said the best thing that folks in those populations can do is be with their community, get with family, get with friends or neighbors. Don't try and ride out this storm alone, because even if you're in a secure house, the power can go out, a tree could fall on your roof.

    And when bad things happen, no one will be there to help them out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, P.J., tell us about the shelters that are operating there in the Wilmington area. What is going on at this point? What are they handling?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Sure.

    Just in the 4:00 hour, the Red Cross released a statement that about 1,600 people spent last night in shelters in North and South Carolina. But today is really the day that most folks in this region made their way to shelters, if they were going to go to shelters.

    We visited one shelter where over 100 people had come. Many were streaming in as we were in there talking to the director there, so many that they were actually out of cots. There was still plenty of space for folks to stretch out.

    They even had a space for pets, which, as you may know, is a reason that a lot of folks don't want to go to a shelter, because they're afraid that their pet won't be allowed in. But hundreds of people in this area have made their way to shelters over the last 24 hours.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, we know we're getting close to the hour when people have to get out for their own safety.

    What are you seeing there in Wilmington?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Well, things are closing up here. Pharmacies are — have basically started shuttering today. Grocery stores. Gas stations are running out of gas.

    Earlier today, around 10:00 a.m., we went to a Home Depot. They were closing early, within that hour. There was a line out the door. So, if the time is getting — it's getting to zero hour, where if there's anything you need to do to prepare, it's getting to be too late awfully quickly, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    P.J. Tobia reporting for us from Wilmington, North Carolina, thank you, P.J.

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