Hurricane Florence: 'Life-threatening monster' forces mass evacuation

Officials have described Hurricane Florence as a potential "once in a lifetime" storm. North Carolina and neighboring states are preparing for days of catastrophic storm surges, winds and floods.

Tens of thousands of people fled from the North and South Carolina coastline on Tuesday as Hurricane Florence churned towards the US East Coast. 

Nature and Environment | 22.03.2018

The Category 4 hurricane is expected to "bring life-threatening storm surge and rainfall to portions of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states," the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned in its update at 00:01 GMT on Wednesday.

Read more: Will extreme weather become even deadlier?

Some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia have been given voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders ahead of the storm's expected landing on Thursday or Friday.

Nature and Environment | 29.08.2018

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned that people in evacuation zones "need to get out now."

"This is not a storm that people need to ride out," Cooper told reporters. "This is a storm that is historic, maybe once in a lifetime."

Officials in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC have all declared states of emergency and told residents to prepare for flooding and extended power outages.

Natural disasters as seen from outer space

Only tears of sand remain

Earth observation satellites such as the European Space Agency's Proba-V collect daily images that allow for the tracking of environmental changes over time. The images above - taken in April 2014, July 2015 and January 2016 (left to right) - offer crystal-clear insight into the gradual evaporation of Lake Poopo, once Bolivia's second largest lake - due at least in part to climate change.

Natural disasters as seen from outer space

The beast has awoken

No matter how long volcanoes sleep, they're always in a bad mood when they wake up. The International Space Station was passing overhead when the Sarychev volcano, located in the Kuril Islands of Russia, erupted in 2009. Astronauts were able to snap a picture through a hole in the clouds. From dense ash to clouds of condensed water, virtually all natural phenomena can be examined from outer space.

Natural disasters as seen from outer space

Don't play with fire

Every year, wildfires devastate the landscape - and ecology - in numerous countries around the world. Too often, these are caused by humans. This was also the case in Indonesia, where farmers burned peat rainforest areas for agriculture. On the island of Borneo and Sumatra, satellites detected fire hot spots in September 2015, and the plume of grey smoke that triggered air quality alerts.

Natural disasters as seen from outer space

German kids misbehaved

In Germany, parents warn their children that if they don't finish their meals, it's going to rain. And indeed, in 2013 it rained, so much that some of central Europe's major rivers overflowed their banks. As shown in this image from 2013, the Elbe burst its banks following unprecedented rainfall. In the photo, muddy water covers the area around Wittenberg, in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

Natural disasters as seen from outer space

At the eye of the hurricane

A strong storm can cause irreparable damage through intense winds and storm surges from the sea. Space-based information is crucial in following development of such storms: intensity, the direction it's moving, wind speed … in the eastern Pacific Ocean near Mexico, this satellite image helped determine how tropical storm Sandra reached winds of 160 kilometers per hour by November 25, 2015.

Natural disasters as seen from outer space

Melting away from under us

Satellites also play a key role in monitoring climate change and, inevitably, the process of melting ice. From space, scientists were able to document how several glaciers around the globe have receded - as well as the subsequent rise in sea level. This photograph, taken from the International Space Station, shows the retreat of the Upsala glacier in Argentine Patagonia from 2002 to 2013.

Natural disasters as seen from outer space

Hold your breath!

Dust often covers remote deserts - however, in September 2015, satellites offered this impressive view of Middle East areas enveloped by a dust storm, or haboob, affecting large populated regions. What satellites can observe from space supports air quality sensors on the ground to understand patterns on how the storms start and develop. These findings can improve forecasting methods.

Natural disasters as seen from outer space

'Naked mountain'

These are the words NASA used to describe the lack of snow on California's Mount Shasta, a crucial source of water for the region. Images documenting drought over the past years have consistently been showing brown mountains that should be white, and bare earth where people seek water. As ice melts, drought grows.

Packing winds of up to 220 km/h (140 mph) late Tuesday, Florence is expected to further strengthen through Wednesday before slightly weakening on Thursday as it nears the Carolinas.

"Florence is forecast to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through landfall," the NHC warned, with storm surges of up to 13 feet (4 meters) inundating coastal areas.

The NHC warned that hurricane force winds may extend 65 kilometers from the center and tropical storm-force winds may reach 240 kilometers outward. 

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As the hurricane moves inland, 38 to 63.5 centimeters (15 to 25 inches) of rain accumulation are expected, NHC said. In some areas as much as 89 centimeters of rain may fall. 

The rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and river flooding.

More than 5.4 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches. Another 4 million people were under a tropical storm watch.

Read more: Weather and climate disasters made 2017 costliest year for US

Last year, the United States was hit by three major hurricanes. Hurricane Maria killed about 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, causing widespread criticism of the Trump administration's response.

Hurricane Harvey killed 68 people and caused catastrophic flooding in Houston, while Hurricane Irma caused 129 storm-related deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina

cw/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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