What to Know
Virginia's evacuation order ahead of Hurricane Florence applies to parts of the Hampton Roads area and the Eastern Shore.
State officials say 245,000 people live in the affected area. The evacuation order for Hurricane Florence went into effect Tuesday morning.
Rain will be extremely heavy, dumping up to 10-20" over the next 7 days on much of North Carolina and Virginia, and even 30" in some areas.
A mandatory evacuation began Tuesday morning in Virginia for residents of low-lying coastal areas as state officials warned residents across the entire state to brace for a potential once-in-a-generation storm, catastrophic floods and days-long power outages.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced at a news conference Monday that the evacuation order applies to parts of the Hampton Roads area and Eastern Shore. State officials say 245,000 people live in the affected area. The evacuation order went into effect Tuesday at 8 a.m.
As evacuation in the state got underway, the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, announced that it would be closing all of its campuses at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The university will reopen Monday morning.
Hurricane Florence's top winds dipped to 130 mph Tuesday morning, but it remains a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm and is expected to approach the most-damaging Category 5 status as it slows and strengthens over very warm ocean water off the coast of North and South Carolina.
South Carolina's governor ordered the state's entire coastline to be evacuated starting at noon Tuesday and predicted that 1 million people would flee.
Northam said Virginia's evacuation zone includes the most flood-prone coastal areas. He said inland flooding could be severe and urged residents around the state to prepare for floods and loss of power.
"This is a serious storm and it's going to affect the entire state of Virginia," Northam said.
Virginia officials said they are taking several steps to prepare for the storm, including activating 1,500 National Guardsmen and asking other states to send rescue teams.
State officials said they have a tiered system for evacuating and are so far only requiring residents of the most flood-prone areas, known as "Zone A," to leave their homes.
The affected zone includes parts of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and the Eastern Shore. It also stretches north to include parts of the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. A detailed map is available on the state's website.
The Virginia Department of Transportation is lifting temporary lane closures on major routes where possible, the agency said Tuesday. Express Lanes tolls in the Hampton Roads area have been suspended until further notice.
State Coordinator for Emergency Management Jeff Stern said the state may order additional evacuations if the storm's projected path changes. The next tier of potential evacuees, Zone B, has about 300,000 residents.
Officials said they are continuing to work on details about where evacuees can seek shelter and additional details will be provided in the near term.
"The simplest answer is: go to higher ground and inland," Northam said.
State officials offered the following preparation tips:
- Gather needed items for emergency kits for your home and vehicle. Virginia has tips on what to include for your family, home and pets online here.
- Clear any debris from any drainage facilities on your property to prepare for heavy rain. You can find more about drainage in your neighborhood here.
- Get your car road-ready and fill your gas tank for potentially lengthy travel in the event of an evacuation.
The center of the massive storm is forecast to meander Thursday, Friday and Saturday over a stretch of coastline saturated by rising seas, inundating several states with rainfall and triggering life-threatening floods.
Rainfall will be extremely heavy, dumping up to 10 to 20 inches over the next 7 days over much of North Carolina and Virginia, and even 30 inches in some places. Combined with high tides, the storm surge could reach 12 feet at the center of the storm, forecasters said Tuesday.
The size of Florence is "staggering," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned.
"We could cover several states easily with the cloud cover alone," Graham said. "This is not just a coastal event."