The rapidly intensifying Hurricane Florence could strike a direct blow anywhere from the Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States later this week, possibly as a category 4.
A hurricane hunter plane found Florence strengthening quickly, reaching top winds of 85mph on Sunday evening after crossing the 74mph threshold from tropical storm to a hurricane earlier in the day.
Forecasters said Florence is expected to become an extremely dangerous major hurricane some time on Monday, and will remain that way for days.
Earlier on Monday morning, Florence was centred about 625 miles south-east of Bermuda, moving west at 9mph.
Its maximum sustained winds are at 105mph. Drawing energy from the warm water, it could have top sustained winds of 130mph or more by Tuesday, the Miami-based centre said.
The centre also said that Hurricane Isaac, much further out to sea, has become the 5th named hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season.
It is too early to know Florence’s exact path, but the hurricane could blow ashore in the Carolinas by Thursday.
Up and down the densely populated coast, residents have been told to prepare.
Florence could slow or stall on or near shore, scooping up massive amounts of seawater.
Some forecasting models show it could unload a foot or two of rain in places, causing devastating inland flooding. Forecasters also warned of a rising threat of life-threatening storm surge, along with the damaging winds.
The governors of North and South Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency far ahead of the approaching storm.
Navy ships off Virginia’s coast were preparing to sail out of its path, a North Carolina university has already cancelled classes and people have begun stocking up on plywood, bottled water and other supplies.
Red flags have already been flying on beaches, warning swimmers to stay out of the water as seas began kicking up. People rushed to get emergency kits ready, map out escape routes, fill sandbags and secure their homes.