HOLDEN BEACH, N.C., Sept 10 (Reuters) - North Carolina residents boarded up their homes and piled cars with valuables on Monday after officials warned coastal areas would be hit from Hurricane Florence, the most powerful storm to take aim at the U.S. mainland this year.
The storm had winds of 130 miles per hour (209 kph) and was due to gain strength before it made landfall, which the U.S. National Hurricane Center said was likely to occur early Thursday, bringing heavy rain that could cause severe flooding through the region.
"We are in the bull's-eye," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference Monday. Officials ordered residents and visitors to begin evacuating the Outer Banks. "This is going to be a statewide event."
The United States faced a series of high-powered hurricanes last year, including Hurricane Maria, which killed some 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, and Hurricane Harvey, which killed about 68 people and caused an estimated $1.25 billion in damage when it brought catastrophic flooding to Houston.
By 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) on Monday, Florence was about 1,240 miles (2,000 km) east-southwest of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and was a Category 4, the second-strongest on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the NHC said.
U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration faced severe criticism for a slow response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria, canceled a political rally planned for Friday in Jackson, Mississippi, over safety concerns related to Florence, his campaign said.
Cooper declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, as did his counterparts in neighboring South Carolina and Virginia. He said he had asked Trump to declare a federal state of emergency for North Carolina.
Florence could bring a life-threatening coastal storm surge, and inland flooding as far north as Virginia, the NHC said.
Historically, 90 percent of fatalities from hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions have been caused by water, said NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Some 27 percent of the deaths have come from rain-driven flooding, sometimes hundreds of miles inland.
'CAN'T PLAY AROUND'
Holden Beach, North Carolina, was in the storm's path, according to forecasts on Monday. Longtime residents could be seen boarding up homes and securing possessions.
"It's scary to all of us. We know we can't play around with this," said Jennifer Oosterwyk, who owns the Sugar Britches boutique on Holden Beach and lives in nearby Wilmington.
Oosterwyk was gathering important papers including tax documents from her store on Monday, and said she planned to drive 150 miles (240 km) inland to Cary to ride the storm out.
Dare County Emergency Management told residents and visitors to evacuate Hatteras Island by Tuesday at noon.
The U.S. military said it was sending an advanced team to Raleigh, North Carolina, to coordinate with federal and state partners and that about 750 military personnel will be set aside to provide support.
The U.S. Navy added that it was sending nearly 30 ships from Virginia to sea in order to avoid damage.
The NHC also was tracking two other hurricanes farther out in the Atlantic: Category 1 Isaac and Category 2 Helene.
Wall Street was trying to pick winners and losers.
Shares of Generac Holdings Inc, building materials maker Owens Corning and roofing supplier Beacon Roofing Supply Inc were up between 4 percent and 6 percent. Retailers Lowe's Companies Inc was up 2.3 percent and Home Depot Inc gained 2 percent.
Several insurers seen vulnerable to potential claims losses slipped, led by a 2 percent drop in Allstate Corp and a 1.8 percent decline in Travelers Companies Inc.