Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Mandatory evacuations hit coastal areas from Florida to the Carolinas on Monday as Hurricane Dorian was expected to graze Florida and possibly strike Cape Hatteras, N.C.
As a Category 4 storm on Monday, Hurricane Dorian was pounding the Bahamas as it made its way towards the United States, forcing coastal areas to brace for impact while anticipating a northward turn to avoid a direct hit.
In North Carolina, tourists were ordered to leave the outlying barrier islands of the Cape Hatteras region by noon Tuesday, according to Dare County officials there; residents of the area were ordered to evacuate by 6 a.m. Wednesday.
The official forecast track for Dorian on Monday showed it passing directly over Cape Hatteras, with tropical storm winds arriving by 8 a.m. Thursday.
On Monday, Florida officials said mandatory evacuation orders were in effect for coastal areas of Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. Florida's first official hurricane warnings were posted from the Town Jupiter to Brevard County.
"Residents should shelter within the county if possible," town officials said in a public notice in Jupiter. "With the unpredictable nature of Hurricane Dorian, evacuating north is not recommended."
Three more Florida counties issued mandatory coastal orders for Tuesday: St. Johns, Brevard and Volusia.
Tolls were suspended on major highways to make it easier to flee the storm, including Florida's Turnpike, Alligator Alley (Interstate 75), the Sawgrass Expressway (state Route 869), the Beachline Expressway (state Route 528), and the Orlando Beltway (state Routes 417 and 429).
The state said 38 general shelters were open along with 11 special needs shelters.
The Georgia Department of Transportation will begin contraflow of traffic on I-16 from 8 a.m. to expedite the evacuations, the order said.
Residents of coastline areas are ordered to evacuate "as Georgia's network of roads and bridges providing access to our barrier islands may be rendered impassable, isolating residences and persons from access to essential public services," it said.
To facilitate the evacuations, the state ordered lane reversals on several major highways including I-26 from Charleston to Columbia and U.S. 278 in Hilton Head starting noon Monday.
"This is a very serious hurricane -- 185 mph gusts up to 220 mph -- that's the strongest, the largest in modern history, certainly the strongest any of us around here have seen," McMaster said in a press conference.
He said that the evacuation order may not make "everyone happy" but they are taking these steps to "keep everyone alive."