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North Carolina Prepares For Hurricane Florence

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're going to go to North Carolina, where people are preparing for the arrival of Florence. People there are worried that even after the storm makes landfall, there could be torrential rains and catastrophic flooding. From member station WUNC, Jeff Tiberii reports.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: Millions of residents and visitors are scattering, getting away from the massive storm while there is still time.

JEFF WOOLRIDGE: Last two days have been very eventful.

TIBERII: Jeff Woolridge might be putting it mildly. He lives on a houseboat with his girlfriend, Mae Buchanan, at Carolina Beach in the southeast corner of the state. On Monday, they left their home in the Atlantic Ocean, took a dinghy to shore and Ubered to a coastal shelter and then hopped on a bus for four hours to this site a few miles east of Raleigh. Today they're standing outside a shelter sharing a cigarette while trying to swallow down tears.

MAE BUCHANAN: I just don't want to lose everything - pictures, sentimental stuff.

TIBERII: What was it that convinced you that you needed to leave?

BUCHANAN: Mainly everybody's responses on my Facebook when I told them I was staying. They were all very concerned.

TIBERII: Like many here, Woolridge and Buchanan decided not to ride out the storm. This is one of 16 shelters open for evacuees from the coast. Felicia Downing runs this shelter and says it's already at capacity.

FELICIA DOWNING: We're having a lot of people presenting with a lot of different issues - mental health issues, illnesses. To me, those are most pressing.

TIBERII: Accommodations include rows of green cots, three meals a day and air conditioning that can be powered by the shelter's generator. While a direct hit is of great concern, also inducing anxiety is what comes next - heavy rains and historic flooding. North Carolina hasn't been hit by a Category 3 storm in nearly a quarter century. More recently it has faced Floyd and Matthew, both of which brought damaging rains and deadly flooding after the initial impact.

The state is not lined with rocky coastlines. Rather the coastal plains sit at a low elevation and are susceptible to flooding. It's more than a hundred miles from the coast to the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Much depends on how long the hurricane lingers over this area and how much rain it dumps. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned residents this morning that they could be without power for days. Utility experts warn it could be weeks. The governor also offers an ominous projection from floodplain experts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROY COOPER: And from the storm surge alone, tens of thousands of structures are expected to be flooded in North Carolina.

TIBERII: On Tuesday, Cooper issued the first ever evacuation order for all of the state's barrier islands. That includes Carolina Beach, where Woolridge and Buchannan hope to one day return to their houseboat. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Raleigh, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN AND DOUBLE TROUBLE'S "COULDN'T STAND THE WEATHER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.