Hurricane Florence grew stronger as it barreled toward the Southeast coast Monday, rapidly intensifying into a Category 4 storm as officials from Virginia to Florida warned residents to prepare for a potentially devastating hit.
Only an hour earlier, the National Hurricane Center said Florence had strengthened into a Category 3 storm. But the agency then tweeted at noon Florence had grown again to a Category 4, with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph.
Florence is currently 575 miles south-southeast of Bermuda and about 1,230 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving west at 13 mph.
North and South Carolina are anticipated to bear the brunt, according to forecasters. In North Carolina, evacuations were already underway: Dare County officials issued a mandatory evacuation on Monday for Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks, and ordered more evacuations for other areas of the county beginning Tuesday morning.
Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C., warned residents to take the threat of the storm seriously.
“The forecast places North Carolina in the bull’s-eye of Hurricane Florence, and the storm is rapidly getting stronger,” he said. “When weather forecasters tell us ‘life-threatening,’ we know that it is serious.”
North Carolina should brace for three dangers from Florence, Cooper said: coastal ocean surges, strong winds, and island flooding.
“All parts of the state could be affected by the storm,” Cooper said at a press conference on Monday morning, warning that power outages could last for “awhile.”
Cooper added that he has already activated 200 National Guard troops, and asked President Donald Trump for a disaster declaration ahead of the storm so federal help can be made available as quickly as possible.
Cooper declared a state of emergency for North Carolina over the weekend. The governors of South Carolina and Virginia also declared states of emergency in advance.
On Sunday, South Carolina’s state emergency management agency tweeted it was “preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster.”
The hurricane is expected to approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
A Trump campaign rally scheduled for Friday in Jackson, Miss., was canceled due to the storm.
by Elizabeth Chuck, NBCNews