Navy warships sail out of Norfolk while Air Force planes fly into the heart of the hurricane

Hurricane Florence sprawls below the International Space Station on Monday, as the storm threatens the U.S. East Coast. Forecasters said Florence could become an extremely dangerous major hurricane sometime Monday and remain that way for days. (NASA via AP) All Navy ships that can sortie are leaving ports in Virginia as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Eastern Seaboard.

Adm. Christopher Grady, the commander of Norfolk-based U.S. Fleet Forces, ordered all Navy ships in the Hampton Roads area to set Sortie Condition Alpha, mandating all crews complete final preparations and begin sailing from their harbors on Monday.

“Our ships can better weather storms of this magnitude when they are underway,” said Grady in a written statement emailed to Navy Times.

The Navy counted nearly 30 vessels from Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek leaving Monday before high winds and rain lash the mid-Atlantic coast.

Navy Times chronicled a steady parade of submarines, guided-missile destroyers and cruisers moving Monday morning past Fort Monroe and into the haze of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Behind them splashed the Coast Guard’s medium endurance cutter Bear, which left the Hampton Roads Sector around 1 p.m. on Monday.

“We’re moving out assets in preparation of potentially dangerous conditions in the path of the projected storm. We do that so that they can immediately return and begin rescue and recovery operations after the storm passes," said Public Affairs Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Canup by phone from district headquarters in nearby Portsmouth. Tidewater groceries and hardware stores reported large numbers of shoppers on Monday as Hurricane Florence moved closer to the Eastern Seaboard. (Mark D. Faram/Navy Times) Navy warships incapable of getting underway because they are undergoing maintenance were ordered to take extra precautions to avoid potential damage, including latching on additional mooring and storm lines, disconnecting shore power cables and dropping anchor.

Navy Rear Adm. Charles W. Rock also ordered all installations in the Hampton Roads area to set Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness Three, which indicates officials anticipate sustained destructive winds of greater than 57 miles per hour within the next two days.

Sailors have begun sandbagging buildings, removing debris from drainage areas, barring automobiles in flood prone areas, topping off fuel in generators and relocating dumpsters and equipment to more secure areas, officials said.

Personnel and their families are encouraged to review hurricane checklists and evacuation plans in case officials order them to leave and to consult with their chain of command for the most accurate and up to date information.

Hardware stores and groceries in the Tidewater area reported throngs of shoppers storing up on emergency supplies Monday morning.

At the Costco near Naval Base Norfolk, the line stretched nearly 100 yards past the entry way, and carts snaked through the aisles shortly after it opened at 10 a.m.

On bases throughout the region, commissary officials are adjusting hours of operation to meet the needs of shoppers, said Kevin Robinson, spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency.The commissary at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina normally remains closed […]