NY task force deployed to the Carolinas as potentially catastrophic Florence strengthens

NEW YORK -- As Hurricane Florence appears to be on a collision course with the East Coast, residents living along the coastline in the Carolinas and Virginia are preparing to evacuate and New York first responders are preparing to head south to lend their support.

New York Task Force One, comprised of NYPD and FDNY members, will be departing for Kinston, North Carolina, early Tuesday morning. Officials said 82 members and six search and rescue dogs are being sent to pre-stage relief efforts. The team brings their own equipment, including rescue boats and hazmat gear.

South Carolina's Gov. Henry McMaster ordered the state's entire coastline to be evacuated starting at noon. McMaster predicted that 1 million people would flee.

"This may be inconvenient. This is a very dangerous hurricane," McMaster said. "We are not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina. Not one."

Airlines, including American and Southwest, have started letting passengers change travel plans that take them into the hurricane's possible path.

"North Carolina is taking Hurricane Florence seriously and you should, too," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. "Get ready now."

Carrying winds of up to 140 mph as a Category 4 storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to strengthen and become a Category 5 storm Tuesday. It's then forecast to close in on North or South Carolina on Thursday, hitting a stretch of coastline that's vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change.

An evacuation order from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam applies to about 245,000 residents of low-lying coastal areas, including parts of the Hampton Roads area and Eastern Shore.

In New York, an area of high pressure is expected to suppress Florence, keeping it from heading this way. While the tri-state is not expected to be directly impacted, swells created by Florence will propagate to our region.

A high surf advisory has been posted across the entire coast as 6- to 9-foot waves will batter the ocean facing shoreline, bringing the risk of beach erosion and dangerous rip currents.

The New York rescue team was last deployed during Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.