(Reuters) - After making landfall in Florida on Wednesday, Hurricane Michael is forecast to sweep across the Carolinas, delivering a fresh blow to an area still trying to recover from the ravages of Hurricane Florence last month.
The storm will not hit the region with the same intensity as Florence, but its high winds and heavy rain have the potential to flood the same rivers that overflowed last month and rip apart structures that are still being rebuilt, officials said.
On its current projected track, the storm is expected to hit central North and South Carolina from Wednesday night, with maximum sustained winds of around 50 miles per hour (80 kph). It could dump as much 2 to 5 inches (5-13 cms) of rain in parts of the region, according to the National Weather Service.
Areas hardest hit by Florence, which caused billions of dollars in damage and killed 50 people, will not suffer a head-on blow, but that could change if the storm’s path changes, the Weather Service said.
“I know people who weathered Florence last month and other storms before don’t want to even think about another one,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Tuesday. “But we have to. So I’m asking you to be watchful and alert, and to get ready.”
Florence ripped through parts of southern and southeast North Carolina, causing major damage to several more than century-old rural communities that now face an uncertain future.
Areas of southeastern North Carolina hit by Florence could feel tropical storm force winds. Further inland, winds are expected to be less powerful, but strong enough to rip tarps off roofs damaged by Florence, the governor’s office said.
“The ground remains saturated in many areas from Florence’s rainfall, and any heavy rainfall from Michael may quickly lead to additional flooding,” the National Weather Service said.
Coastal flooding is expected, especially with each high tide. The highest risk of storm surge will occur on Thursday, and vulnerable low spots along the beaches or those where the shoreline was weakened from Florence are at the greatest risk, it added.
The storm is forecast to move quickly across the Carolinas, which should see weather conditions improve from Thursday. As of Tuesday afternoon, neither state had ordered evacuations but that could change depending on Michael’s strength. The South Carolina Office of Emergency Management told residents to be vigilant.
“The exact location and the severity of what Hurricane Michael does to our state will depend on its intensity,” Emergency Director Kim Stenson said.
In Conway, South Carolina, located about 15 miles northwest of coastal Myrtle Beach, roads and bridges were closed for about a week after the Waccamaw River overflowed during Florence. Michael’s approach is bringing a fresh wave of fear.
“We’re all pretty nervous here. The river is still at flood stage,” J.T. Fleischman, manager of the Daisy Fair Flowers in Conway, said by telephone.
Fleischman, 26, said he hoped Michael brings wind and not more water, or “we’re going to get stuck here again.”
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C.; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler