As Hurricane Florence nears Carolinas, 1 million told to evacuate

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Florence rapidly intensified into a fearsome category 3 hurricane Monday and could strike a direct and risky blow to the Carolinas later this week, possibly as a category 4, forecasters said.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say Florence rapidly intensified Monday morning to a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 130 miles per hour (195 kph).

The National Hurricane Center says it is still too early to predict the hurricane's exact path, but a huge coastal area from northern Florida to North Carolina should prepare for a major hit.

The hurricane is expected to remain a powerful storm for the next few days, and it has the potential to become a Category 5 Hurricane, according to Walsh.

Governors in Virginia, North Carolina and SC have all declared states of emergency over the past two days in anticipation of the storm.

Hurricane-force winds could buffet the Carolinas by Wednesday night with landfall likely in SC and North Carolina on Thursday, followed by heavy rains that could cause flooding in much of the U.S. Southeast, the NHC said.

The U.S. Navy is sending almost 30 of its Virginia-based ships out to sea as Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Atlantic Coast.

The storm will bring with it large swells and life-threatening rip currents.

Florence had reached Category 3 strength earlier Monday, but data from hurricane hunter aircraft indicate the storm is quickly getting stronger as it moves over warm Atlantic waters.

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At this height of the Atlantic hurricane season, Florence was being trailed on east-to-west paths by two other hurricanes, Helene and Isaac.

NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said historically, 90 percent of fatalities from hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions have been caused by water. Thus, you should stay alert in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, especially along the coasts.

Hurricanes impacting the Carolinas isn't rare, but it has been some time since a major hurricane has made landfall in North Carolina. An Ohio Valley ridge is expected to form next week and that "pattern should steer Florence west-northwestward at a much faster forward speed by Tuesday". A Category 5 storm has the potential to cause catastrophic damage.

As of noon EDT, Florence was centered about 575 miles (925 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda, moving west at 13 mph (20 kph).

Winds in Florence are now at 90 miles per hour, making it a category 1 hurricane. "We are mobilizing the state's resources to make sure we are prepared, and the people of SC must not hesitate to prepare for the possibility of a hurricane impacting our coast". "Florence could dump a foot of rain in places that cannot handle it, making for a very scary flooding situation in some areas".

Florence is moving toward the west-northwest near 15 miles per hour. According to aircraft data, its maximum sustained winds have increased to near 90 miles per hour.

Hurricanes Isaac, which could hit Caribbean islands, and Helene, much farther out to sea, lined up behind Florence as the 2018 Atlantic season reached its peak. The wind field is expected to keep growing, which will increase the storm surge and inland wind threats, the service said in a statement. The center warns that such storms will snap or uproot most trees and down power poles and that power can be out in some areas for weeks or months.

Florence is moving toward the west near 9 km/h, and this general motion is expected to continue today. It is expected to accelerate during the next 36 hours and head into the eastern Caribbean Sea by Thursday. Weakening is forecast to begin by the middle of the week as Isaac approaches the Lesser Antilles.