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'Storm of a lifetime': 1.7 million ordered to flee approaching fury of Florence

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

September 12, 2018

A NASA image taken from the International Space Station on Wednesday shows the eye of hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean. (NASA/EPA-EFE)

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TODAY:


Battening down for the 'storm of a lifetime'

Hurricane Florence is shifting, with its path now tilting a little more south and west, but its destructive power remains assured.

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The Category 4 storm, packing winds of up to 225 kilometres per hour, is forecast to come ashore in North and South Carolina sometime Thursday night or Friday morning.

However, the effects of the 800-kilometre-wide storm will be felt through many southern states.

Charlotte Miller wades in an angry ocean Wednesday morning at Nags Head, N.C., ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence. Waves pushed by the approaching storm are already starting to pound beaches. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The U.S. National Weather Service is projecting rainfall totals of 30 to 60 centimetres in some areas — more than enough to cause flash flooding — calling it the "storm of a lifetime."

And it's the storm surge, already being pushed some 480 kilometres ahead of the eye, that is really worrying authorities.

Water levels along the Carolina coast will be up to 4 metres higher in places, as the ocean is driven far inland by the high winds and waves — a "life-threatening inundation," per the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

More than 5.4 million people live in the areas currently under hurricane watches and warnings, while another 4.89 million are under tropical storm watches and warnings, according to the National Weather Service. In Virginia, North and South Carolina, 1.7 million people have been told to evacuate their homes. 

Donald Trump has been doing his best to drive home the danger of the "tremendously big and a tremendously wet" storm.

A sign in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., gives mandatory evacuation times ahead of Hurricane Florence's landfall. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Today, the White House posted a video of the U.S. president standing in the Rose Garden and cautioning citizens to take the warnings seriously.

"Get out of its way. Don't play games with it. It's a big one," he says.

Still, Trump wasn't able to resist the impulse to boast about his administration's response to last year's devastating hurricanes, Harvey and Maria.

The reality is that with the recently revised death toll of almost 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, Maria now stands as the second-deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. And many residents of island, not mention the rest of the world, found the government response lacking.

Power was only fully restored in mid-August, 11 months after the storm hit. And some of the sorely needed supplies that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did fly in never made it to the people, like the 1 million bottles of water that are still sitting on the edge of an airport runway in the hard-hit city of Ceiba.

There are also allegations that disaster relief funds are being diverted to pay for Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration. Last night, Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, released documents that appear to show that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security transferred almost $10 million from FEMA's operations budget to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to help pay for detentions and deportations.

U.S. Marine recruits at the military depot in Parris Island, S.C., prepare to evacuate on Tuesday. (Lance Cpl. Yamil Casarreal/via Reuters)

But while North Americans focus on Florence, there's an equally dangerous storm bearing down on the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Super Typhoon Mangkhut is packing Category 5 winds of 278 km/h. It has already caused extensive flooding and power outages as it skirted past Guam.

Mangkhut is expected to hit Taiwan and mainland China this weekend.

The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System is warning that 43.3 million people might be affected by its winds and rain.


Back on the ice in Humboldt

The National's Susan Ormiston is in Humboldt, Sask., to cover the Broncos season opener tonight, the first time the team has played since the devastating team bus crash in April.

The Humboldt Broncos start their new hockey season tonight with a game against the team they would have met in the playoffs on April 6, the fateful night of their bus trip to Nipawin, Sask., that ended and changed so many lives.

There's no underplaying the range of emotions surrounding this game. The team is all new, save for two surviving players who are strong enough to return.

The rest of the former players who survived the crash will be back in the sold-out arena, save for three — two still in hospital and one who finds the whole event just too difficult to deal with right now.

The new Humboldt Broncos team gets strategic pointers from the coaching staff on Tuesday at their last practice ahead of tonight's home opener against the Nipawin Hawks. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

Hockey parents once bound by cold rinks at odd hours, but now by searing memories, will be back in Humboldt tonight, too.

And new Broncos coach Nathan Oystrick, a Regina native who went on to play pro for 10 years, is facing a big test. Not just a brand new team, but live cross-Canada coverage Wednesday night, and managing the emotion around the loss of 16 people who just five months ago were such a big part of the Broncos organization.

Oystrick never knew former coach Darcy Haughan, who died in the crash, but misses him nonetheless.

"In any other job like this, if a coach had moved on you could still call the guy or text them and ask them what the password was, or ask him how this ran last year, or ask him any of those questions," Oystrick says. "This year I couldn't. So it was kinda trial by error.

"I'm sure I've made a few mistakes, but I'm learning from them."

New Humboldt Broncos coach Nathan Oystrick leans over the boards at the Elgar Petersen Arena on Tuesday as the team prepares for tonight's home opener. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

I'm a Saskatchewan girl too — I told Oystrick that when I met him at the Broncos bench Tuesday. I said I never thought I'd be back in my home province to cover such a massively tragic story.

He said, "I never thought I'd be back in Saskatchewan to coach."

The Broncos story has brought so many people together, and in a significant way that is its strength. Broncos Strong will be on display this evening in the Elgar Petersen Arena.

- Susan Ormiston


Adrienne Arsenault on assignment

Adrienne Arsenault, producer Michelle Gagnon and video producer Jean-Francois Bisson are in Colombia near the border, reporting on the mass migration of Venezuelans fleeing the economic and political chaos in their nation.

We knew right away when we met some of these people — these mums and their kids fleeing Venezuela, with their pants still wet from crossing the river — that we would all want to know what happened next.

It's a basic human instinct to wonder that. Where was Sandra going to sleep with those two little girls when she didn't even have money for a little plastic bag of water?

What would Isabelle, still so ill with ovarian cancer, do with her daughters Roxibelle and Rachel? They should be in school in Colombia now, but aren't because that would mean money they don't have for uniforms and books.

But it's the nature of this unnatural mass migration that staying in touch is hard.

If the people we meet have a place to charge a phone, if someone can connect them to wifi, maybe you can exchange a message. But when these weary travellers don't seem to know where they are going or what they will do next, there's no guarantee of a connection.

That's why, this morning, the CBC team practically jumped out of our chairs when we got a WhatsApp message from Sonaly Maza.

We met her Sunday, sitting on the edge of a highway at a toll booth to a mountain pass, about 45 minutes from the border with Venezuela. She was with her three kids, two of them little. They had left Venezuela that morning, and had walked and hitched their way up the highway with all their stuff.

Venezuelan migrants Sonaly Maza and her family share a meal by the side of the road in Colombia on their way to Bogota. (Michelle Gagnon/CBC)

Sonaly is an optimist, and she may also be a bit lucky. A group of Colombian police officers had taken the family under their wing and had them seated between parked motorcycles, like shields. The cops seemed struck by what were clearly hungry kids, so they pooled their own cash and bought the family a feast of chicken, potatoes and vegetables.

There was so much food that Sonaly's little girl seemed completely shocked, a sort of "Christmas morning" shocked.

The plan was to somehow get to Bogota. Sonaly had a friend there who told them maybe they could stay in her room, and if they sold candies on the street they might make some money.

We chatted briefly, offered our contact details just in case, said our goodbyes and then wondered what was next. How would they get through the pass? Again, where would they sleep?

Sonaly had also given us her friend's phone number, but when we called it Monday night it had been disconnected. So we thought we might never hear another thing.

Then the WhatsApp this morning.

It turns out that the kind cops had flagged down a truck carrying plastic cups. It had been heading to Bogota. They asked if the family could ride in the back.

They got in, made it to Bogota and somehow found Sonaly's friend.

As of right now, Sonaly says she is selling socks on the street. She seems so relieved.

Hard to imagine that this is the kind of scenario that leads to relief. But it says everything about what Sonaly and her children left behind.

So glad we heard from them.

- Adrienne Arsenault



A few words on ...

Finding love in a time of turmoil.


Quote of the moment

"We have found them, just to figure out who they are. There is nothing special and criminal about them, believe me."

- Vladimir Putin tells reporters that Russian police have found the two men that British authorities have identified as the intelligence agents who poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter with nerve agent in March. The Russian president is calling on the suspects to go to the media and "tell their story."

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Wednesday. (EPA-EFE)

What The National is reading


Today in history

Sept. 12, 1977: Marshall McLuhan predicts television of the future

The same year that Canada's most/only famous communications theorist makes a cameo in Annie Hall, he stops by the Bob McLean Show to talk about what TV is doing to the human brain. Lots of bad stuff, apparently, from shortening our attention span, to decentralizing the nuclear family and making us sleepy. But almost 40 years on, it seems like he should have been more worried about the presentation of television, like the host and guest both wearing beige suits and brown shirts and blending into the furniture.

Click to show more
McLuhan predicts television of the future.  7:09


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathon Gatehouse
Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.

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