(Reuters) - The first events at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) began on schedule on Wednesday as Hurricane Florence threatened to batter what organizers say will be the highest-attended sporting event in the United States this year.
As the dressage, endurance and reining competitions kicked off a packed 12 days of action, WEG officials were preparing for what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) described as a “Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast”.
Close to an estimated 500,000 fans were expected to take in events at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC), which is located approximately 250 miles (402km) inland from where Florence is most likely to strike.
The venue could, however, still feel a significant impact from a storm on track to become the first Category 4 hurricane to make a direct hit on North Carolina in six decades.
Updated National Hurricane Center forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast, bringing days of heavy rains that could bring intense inland flooding from South Carolina to Virginia.
Parts of North Carolina, where the World Equestrian Games are going on, could get 40 inches (one meter) of rain.
“This is an outdoor sport,” International Equestrian Federation secretary general Sabrina Ibanez told reporters.
“When it comes to contingency plans, we have those in place.
“This is not the first time we have had adverse weather situations. This is something we are used to. It’s what we do.”
WEG said they have robust contingency plans in place, including sheltering plans for personnel and horses.
There are 1,288 permanent stalls onsite and all barns are built to conform with the international building code to withstand winds up to 90mph (144kph).
For personnel, there are multiple sheltering options on-site while the TIEC have brought in additional generators some of which will be used to supply drinking water from two on-site wells if necessary.
Such emergency plans are not uncharted territory for the TIEC, which became a refuge for horses from five states ahead of Hurricane Irma last year.
Editing by Toby Davis