Hurricane Florence as seen from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA.

AS HURRICANE FLORENCE was spinning into a monster storm in the Atlantic Tuesday, Hema Patel, co-owner of Courtesy Management in Columbia, South Carolina, was in meetings with her staff. They were  reviewing plans and her F&B managers were told to ensure the company’s properties, particularly the five most likely to be affected by the hurricane, were stocked up on food and water.

She reminded them that they do not raise their rates when evacuees come in from the storm.

“Normally we don’t allow pets, but now we do,” Patel said. “Sometimes people just need a place to rest, so we open our lobbies to them.”

Most of the company’s properties are far enough inland that Patel does not expect to receive much damage, but it’s not impossible. “Sometimes we get hit, too,” she said, recalling that one storm two or three years ago brought flooding.

And Hurricane Florence may be another case in which the damage can be much greater than expected. The storm was a Category 4 hurricane at 8 p.m. Tuesday was expected to grow in strength, according to the National Hurricane Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hurricane Florence is expected to move west-northwest toward the Carolinas through Thursday, slowing down late Thursday and Friday as it approaches the coast. Her winds were already at 140 mph with higher gusts.

“Strengthening is forecast tonight and Wednesday,” the NHC advisory said. “While some weakening is expected on Thursday, Florence is forecast to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through landfall.”

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 60 miles from Florence’s center and tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles. And the storm surge expected to accompany the tempest was expected to be as high as 13 feet in some areas.

“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” said the advisory. “The water has the potential to reach the following heights above ground if peak surge occurs at the time of high tide.”

As the storm comes ashore, it is expected to bring 15 to 25 inches of rain with isolated amounts up to 35 inches near the storm’s center into early next week.

“This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding.”

While South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster lifted mandatory evacuation orders for the state’s southernmost counties Tuesday night, they remained in effect in Horry, Georgetown, Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties and for Edisto Beach. Schools and state offices were ordered closed starting Wednesday for several other counties as well, according to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.

“Evacuation shelter locations for those evacuating from the state’s northern and central coastal counties will be available on scemd.org and in the SC Emergency Manager mobile app as soon as they are opened,” SCEMD said.

This track from the National Hurricane Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts Florence will make landfall Thursday into Friday on the coast of North and South Carolina.

On Tuesday North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued mandatory evacuations for several coastal areas in conjunction with local evacuation orders. Florence expected to hit the state’s eastern half, but the entire state has been told to brace for its impact.

“The waves and wind in this storm may be like nothing you have ever seen,” Cooper said. “Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out this monster.”

A storm of this size and strength is rare in the Carolinas and especially dangerous because many residents may not be prepared, according to CNN. It’s been 29 years since Hurricane Hugo struck the area, and the population has grown markedly.

“There’s 25 percent more people living between Charleston (South Carolina) and Morehead City (North Carolina) than there were when Hugo was making landfall,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. “Many of the people here have never seen a storm this strong. They have no idea what ‘overwash’ of an island will do to a home, what the wind could do to your home and what to do to your home to make it safer after you evacuate.”

But Patel said she is pleased with the level of response Hurricane Florence has earned from the public.

“This one seems to have a lot more hype with it,” she said. “I’m so glad that people are taking precautions.”

Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Helene are crossing the Atlantic behind Florence. Isaac is expected to carry on through the Caribbean toward Central America while Helene is forecast to head north into the Atlantic without making landfall.