Hurricane Florence strengthens, churns toward US Southeast coast

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The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Florence is rapidly strengthening and that swells generated by the storm are affecting Bermuda and portions of the U.S. East Coast.

It's now about 575 miles southeast of Bermuda, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an 12 p.m.

A Category 4 hurricane would have sustained winds of 130-156 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center says.

According to the National Hurricane Center's 11 p.m. update, Florence is about 685 miles southeast of Bermuda and is moving west at about 7 mph with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph with higher gusts.

At a news conference on Sunday, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster warned of a "likely strong hit" on the state and urged residents to begin making preparations now. "This storm gets stronger and stronger" and is on its way to a head-on impact on the Carolinas, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

Immediately to the north of Virginia, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said his state was also "preparing for the potential of historic, catastrophic and life-threatening flooding". By 11 a.m. Monday, Florence became a major hurricane, with top sustained winds of 115 miles per hour.

"North Carolina is taking Hurricane Florence seriously, and you should, too", Cooper said. "Florence could dump a foot of rain in places that cannot handle it, making for a very scary flooding situation in some areas". Storm surge watches could be issued for North and SC and Virginia by Tuesday morning.

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Rapidly intensifying Hurricane Florence could strike a direct and risky blow anywhere from the Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic region later this week. Hugo in 1989 was the one before that and was a Category 4 at landfall. It is about 1,230 miles east of the Windward Islands, moving west at 14 mph.

More than 3.9 million homes that would cost more than a $1 trillion to rebuild are at risk from hurricanes on the U.S. Atlantic coast from ME to Florida, according to CoreLogic, a property analytics firm in Irvine, California. Tropical storm force winds and some rain bands will likely begin Wednesday night, regardless of the actual landfall of the storm. Virginia and North Carolina right now look most primed for the heaviest rains.

Florence is now a category two hurricane but is expected to become a major hurricane by the end of today.

Red flags flying on beaches warned swimmers to stay out of waters already roiled by the distant storm, and cruise ships and Navy vessels were set to be steered out of harm's way. People rushed to get emergency kits ready, map out escape routes, fill sandbags and secure their homes.

"County officials are in continual discussions with South Carolina Emergency Management, coastal communities including local municipalities, the Governor's office and will continue to monitor the situation closely", a release from Horry County states. Whiteville's Lowes Home Improvement Store was doing a brisk business in plywood, duct tape, and generators Sunday afternoon. It doesn't appear to be a threat to us, but it should track westward into the Caribbean and has a better shot at impacting our weather at some point, however unlikely that may be.

In southeast Virginia, Naval Station Norfolk told its employees they should not leave their vehicles parked at the sprawling base in coming days because of the flood threat.

Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line re-routed its cruise ships. The university said Sunday that it has issued a voluntary evacuation for students starting at midday Monday, noting classes would be cancelled.