Hurricane Dorian is churning Wednesday morning off Florida, lashing the coast with heavy rain, surge and tropical-storm-force winds before it's expected to march toward Georgia and a potentially dangerous brush with the Carolinas.
The Category 2 storm has shifted slightly west, as predicted, teeing up what could be devastating flooding Thursday in Charleston, South Carolina. Storm surge there could be higher than 10 feet -- just 2 feet shy of the record set two decades ago by Hurricane Hugo -- CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.
Dorian's close proximity to the coast and the fact that its eye is 50 miles wide means that even if the storm's center doesn't make landfall along the southeast US, its eye wall -- with wind gusts of 100 mph -- could pass over land, particularly as Dorian heads north, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
'If this storm is 30 miles offshore, that means the Carolina coast does, in fact, get the eye wall,' he said Wednesday morning. 'It may not get the center of the eye, but who cares? The center of the eye is calm. It is the eye wall that is the most important part. And as it turns on up toward the north ... even if it's offshore, the eye wall could be very much onshore.'
Landfall is a distinct possibility Thursday from Charleston to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, CNN meteorologist Judson Jones said
The Category 2 storm early Wednesday had sustained winds of 105-mph winds, and its rain bands moved onshore as it passed east of Cape Canaveral on the coast of northeastern Florida.
Power was out Wednesday morning to more than 7,000 of households and businesses in Florida, mostly in Brevard and Indian River counties, state emergency managers said.
Mandatory evacuations or other disaster preparations had been underway late Tuesday in eastern coastal counties in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency, tweeting Tuesday night there was 'no more time for hesitation.'
'If you're in an evacuation zone you need to evacuate now,' he said.
On its way to the US, the hurricane swept over the Bahamas, devastating entire towns. The death toll was expected to rise sharply, with the storm already called the greatest national crisis in the country's history.
States have been preparing
Florida has been preparing for nearly a week for Dorian's uncertain impact.
Eleven Florida coastal counties were under mandatory evacuation orders Tuesday night as the state felt the storm's impacts.
'These potential impacts, including flooding, structural damage, storm surge and serious beach erosion in our coastal communities cannot be understated,' Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp issued a mandatory evacuation order for six coastal counties.
'We're looking at a 4 to 7 foot storm surge which is very high, higher than some of the more catastrophic storms that we've seen from a water perspective in the past,' Kemp said Tuesday evening.
'We need people to evacuate,' he said. 'This is not a storm to mess with.'
A major state interstate switched to a one-way evacuation route Tuesday as hundreds of thousands began evacuating the Georgia coast, CNN affiliate WSB reported.
Virginia also declared a state of emergency Tuesday, expecting possible flooding, storm surge, damaging winds and prolonged power outages, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management said.
'Current predictions indicate that it may affect parts of Virginia,' Gov. Ralph Northam said. 'I am declaring a state of emergency to ensure that localities and communities have the appropriate level of assistance, and to coordinate the Commonwealth's response to any potential impact from Hurricane Dorian.'
South Carolinians 'must leave now,' officials warn
South Carolina coastal areas will see life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds, according to the hurricane center, 'regardless of the exact track of Dorian's center.'
The Carolinas aren't out of the woods yet in terms of landfall. The core of the hurricane could be 'very near, or possibly over, the coast of South and North Carolina on Thursday and Friday,' the hurricane center said.
The state's emergency management agency echoed those warnings.
Residents in designated evacuation areas must leave by Wednesday morning, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division said.
'Due to the increasing threat of dangerous conditions such as storm surge and high winds, now is the time to heed the evacuation order issued by Governor Henry McMaster,' the agency said.
Charleston International Airport said on Twitter that it would suspend operations at 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday until Friday morning, 'depending on weather conditions.'
The federal government also granted North Carolina Gov. Ray Cooper's request for a federal disaster declaration ahead of the storm Tuesday.
'North Carolinians have faced tough storms before and we're taking every precaution to make sure we're prepared,' Cooper said.
Earlier this week, the governor ordered evacuations from the barrier islands.