There was very little calm before the storm in Havelock Monday, as residents, emergency personnel and governmental leaders prepared for what could be the strongest hurricane the area has experienced in more than six decades.

Hurricane Florence is threatening Eastern North Carolina with winds that could top 130 mph, according to forecasters, and more than a foot of rainfall.

Florence bloomed into a category 4 monster on Monday as it made its way west across the Atlantic Ocean toward a possible landfall somewhere along the North Carolina coast late Thursday or early Friday. Weather conditions are expected to go down hill beginning as early as Thursday morning, according to forecasters.

"There's still some uncertainty with the final storm track but significant impacts are likely," meteorologist Erik Heden, with the National Weather Service office in Newport, said on Monday.

Impacts from high wind, storm surge and inland river flooding could be "extreme," according to the weather service, especially considering the storm could stall over North Carolina, spinning bands of rain that could total 20 inches in some locations.

"This is a multi-day event," Heden said.

The National Hurricane Center predicted Monday that Florence would be a category 4 storm with winds of 135 mph at landfall. If the forecast holds true, Florence would be the first category 4 storm to hit the North Carolina coast since Hurricane Hazel in 1954. Though an exact location wasn't known, landfall was generally predicted Monday to be just north of the Cape Fear region near Wilmington, about 100 miles south of the Havelock area.

"The impacts will be felt well away from the center," Heden warned, adding that any slight move to the forecast track could make all the difference in the type of weather any one area receives.

Lauren Wargo, public information officer for the city of Havelock, encouraged residents to prepare for the storm. She said city emergency personnel met Monday to review plans and a state of emergency was declared.

"We are currently reviewing and implementing the emergency plan and closely monitoring the storm’s strength and path," she said in a statement. "Havelock Emergency Services is coordinating with Craven, Carteret, and Cherry Point Emergency Management. City employees are fueling City vehicles and generators."

She said the city had received numerous phone calls about shelters opening, but she said those were a function of Craven County government, which had already declared a state of emergency.

The last major hurricane to hit the North Carolina coast was Matthew in 2016, a storm that caused major river and flash flooding that killed 26 in the state.

On Monday, residents emptied shelves of storm essentials — such as bread, water and batteries — at area grocery stores as soon as they were stocked.

Amy McLean wrapped up her shopping at the Food Lion in Havelock. She had water in her basket along with other items.

“I need my stuff for [my] grandbabies — baby food and snacks," she said.

The retired Havelock native said she’d been through hurricanes before and said she was “not scared” about the prospect of the first major hurricane of the 2018 season.

Carlos Evangalista is no hurricane rookie. He works maintenance for Havelock Inn & Suites, but was making sure he had equipment. He was at Discount City buying flashlights and batteries.

Meanwhile, forecasters urged residents to complete such storm preparations by the end of Wednesday, saying some impacts from Florence were almost a certainty by Thursday.

"It's not likely to miss us," Heden said.

 

Keith Byers contributed to this story.