The Carolinas and Virginia are bracing for Hurricane Florence, a “rare,” potentially life-threatening storm that has prompted orders for coastal residents to begin evacuating today before the Category 4 hurricane makes an expected landfall later this week.

Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam ordered residents in low-lying areas along the coast and waterways to begin evacuating by 8 a.m. And 1,500 National Guard troops will be deployed tomorrow around the state “because we expect the rains to spread hundreds of miles,” said Jeff Caldwell of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

“People should follow the advice of local officials, shelter as recommended, stay tuned to the latest forecast and enact your hurricane plan now. Don’t wait,” said Greg Postel, a hurricane expert at the Weather Channel. “This hurricane has the potential to cause life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic wind damage and significant flooding when we expect it to make landfall between Thursday and Friday, and it may slow down inland and unload feet of water.”

Connie Binot, who owns the Cuthbert House Inn in Beaufort, S.C., said she will lose a lot of business because of the evacuation order and has no idea when it will be lifted.

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“We’re just making plans to secure the hotel and get on the road as soon as possible,” Binot said last night.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ordered residents in zones along the coast to begin evacuating no later than noon. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has ordered 125 buses to be staged in Orangeburg — 37 miles southeast of the state capital of Columbia — in case they are needed to transport residents to shelters. Beginning at noon today, the state will reverse the direction of traffic along certain evacuation routes to ease the flow of traffic away from the coast.

The governor also ordered the closure of all schools and state government offices for nonessential personnel in 25 counties, beginning today.

McMaster, Northam and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper each have asked for a federal emergency declaration so that their states can get federal aid if the hurricane makes landfall in those states.

“Florence carries all of the hazards of a Category 4 hurricane, which is rare in recent times, with rainfall, high-wind damage and storm surge coming all at once,” Postel said. “Hopefully things will change, but the current projections are telling us these kinds of stories.”

Kim Buttrick, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said Florence and the two other hurricanes currently over the Atlantic — Isaac and Helene — are not expected to have any direct impact on New England.

“But Florence will have an indirect impact with building seas, which will translate into high surf and rip currents around our coastline, especially the south coast of southern New England,” Buttrick said.

“It’s a good reminder of the need to prepare,” said Christopher Besse of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, even though power outages and heavy flooding seem unlikely here. “It’s peak hurricane season, so we’re keeping an eye on it.”

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