Hurricane Florence is expected to become a Category 5 storm as it churns towards the US East Coast. Authorities are warning of severe coastal and inland flooding.
Hurricane Florence intensified to a Category 4 hurricane on Monday as it barreled towards the US East Coast, where millions of people are bracing for potentially devastating winds and water later this week.
Its size is "staggering," warned National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham. "We could cover several states easily with the cloud cover alone," Graham said. "This is not just a coastal event."
Packing winds of up to 220 km/h (140 mph) late Monday, Florence was expected to further strengthen and become "an extremely dangerous major hurricane" by the time in makes landfall in the Carolinas on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in a 21:00 UTC update.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster on Monday ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents. Schools in 26 of the state's 46 counties were ordered closed starting Tuesday. The governor of neighboring North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination, and parts of coastal Dare County.
North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have all declared a state of emergency and told residents to prepare for flooding and power outages.
The NHC warned that hurricane force winds may extend 65 kilometers from the center and tropical storm-force winds may reach 240 kilometers outward.
Coastal areas are likely to experience storm surges and the hurricane may dump heavy rains across the entire mid-Atlantic region, causing dangerous floods.
"Life-threatening freshwater flooding is likely from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event, which may extend inland over the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic for hundreds of miles as Florence is expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland," the NHC warned.
US President Donald Trump said the "storm looks very bad" and urged people to take precautions.
"We have already began mobilizing our assets to respond accordingly, and we are here for you!" he wrote on Twitter.
Major US military installments may be in the path of the Florence, including the largest Marine base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and the world's biggest Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia.
Florence is expected to move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Last year, the United States was hit by three major hurricanes. Hurricane Maria killed about 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, causing widespread criticism of the Trump administration's response.
Hurricane Harvey killed 68 people and caused catastrophic flooding in Houston, while Hurricane Irma caused 129 storm-related deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
cw/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)