Evacuations have been ordered as the US East Coast braces for Hurricane Florence – in what may be the strongest storm to hit the region in decades.
South Carolina’s governor ordered the evacuation of its entire coastline while North Carolina and Virginia have declared states of emergency.
Officials say Florence is now a category four storm with 130mph (195km/h) winds, and gaining strength.
It is expected to strike the Carolinas by Thursday.
Hurricane Florence is moving toward the U.S. East Coast and has intensified to a Category 4 storm, with one-minute sustained winds of 130 mph. This image, captured by the GOES East satellite at 10 a.m. ET Monday, shows Florence in the western Atlantic, about 600 miles southeast of Bermuda, at Category 3 intensity. The storm has developed a small, but well-defined eye and a symmetrical appearance typical of major hurricanes that are rapidly intensifying.
The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) shows Florence continuing to strengthen over the next 12 to 24 hours. The storm is expected to enter a region of very warm sea surface temperatures (near 85°F) and low wind shear, giving forecasters increasing confidence that Florence will be a large and extremely dangerous hurricane as it moves closer to the Southeastern U.S.
Damaging hurricane-force winds and a life-threatening storm surge are likely along portions of the coasts of North and South Carolina beginning late Wednesday into Thursday. As the storm moves onto land, forecasters expect the storm to stall, creating potential for exceptionally heavy rainfall and dangerous flash flooding from the Carolinas into the Mid-Atlantic.
Florence – which was 1,200 miles (2,000km) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, on Monday morning – started the day as a category two storm. It would be the first category four storm to hit the region since Hugo ravaged North Carolina in 1989, wreaking $7bn (£5.3bn) in damage and claiming 49 lives.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says Florence has the makings of an “extremely dangerous” meteorological event. It may bring catastrophic levels of rain and flooding to coastal and inland regions.
The NHC said: “There is an increasing risk of life-threatening impacts from Florence: storm surge at the coast, freshwater flooding from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event inland, and damaging hurricane-force winds.”
South Carolina’s governor has ordered the evacuation of its entire coastline starting at noon on Tuesday in a move affecting about a million residents.
North Carolina officials on Monday ordered residents to evacuate the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands while the governor described the state as “the bulls-eye” of the storm.
South Carolina’s state emergency management agency said on Sunday that it is “preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster”
“Pretend, assume, presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of South Carolina and is going to go way inshore,” said South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.
In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper waived agricultural transportation restrictions in order to allow farmers to move goods more quickly. “During harvest, time is of the essence. Action today can avoid losses due to Florence.”
Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval installation in the world, is preparing to send ships away from bases to weather the storm out at sea.
Two other hurricanes Isaac and Helene, are currently churning in the Atlantic Ocean. and are expected to accelerate, but at this point, are not expected to threaten the US mainland.