The Latest: Florence may be Carolinas' 'storm of a lifetime'

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ATLANTA (AP) - The Latest on Hurricane Florence (all times local):

11:00 p.m.

Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm but it is still considered an extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm.

As of 11 p.m., the storm was centered 280 miles (455 kilometers) east southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and was moving northwest at 17 mph (28 kph). Its maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly to 110 mph (175 kph).

But the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday evening that the storm is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge and rainfall to the Carolinas as it approaches the coast Thursday and Friday.

2 p.m.

As motorists try to get away from the path of Hurricane Florence they are learning that some service stations are running out of gasoline.

Patrick DeHaan is an analyst for GasBuddy, a service that tracks gasoline prices and outages.

DeHaan says there is plenty of gasoline in the region, but getting it from distribution terminals to stations is a challenge.

He says the situation is exacerbated because "everyone wants it at the same time."

By midday Wednesday, 5 percent of stations in North Carolina were out, including 10 percent of those in Wilmington and Raleigh-Durham. In South Carolina, 2 percent of stations had run out and in Virginia, 1 percent.

DeHaan says truck stops and major chains with bigger supply systems are more likely to have gas than small stations.

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2 p.m.

Some airports in the Carolinas are shutting down as Hurricane Florence approaches, and American Airlines says it's canceling 565 flights through the weekend.

American said Wednesday that it has stopped flying at Greenville, Jacksonville and New Bern, North Carolina, and would shut down Wednesday night in Wilmington and Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Florence, South Carolina.

American plans to stop flights in Columbia, South Carolina, and Hampton-Newport News, Virginia, on Thursday evening.

Most of the closures will run through Sunday, with a few lifting after Saturday.

American says it's seeing no impact at its big hub in Charlotte, North Carolina, and expects only scattered cancellations through Saturday at Raleigh-Durham.

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2 p.m.

Forecasters say the U.S. coast won't see waves generated by Hurricane Florence that are anywhere near as high as the 83-foot (25-meter) giant that was possibly picked up on a satellite.

Chris Landsea is chief of tropical analysis and the forecast branch at the National Hurricane Center. He says that when waves and the hurricane move in a straight and similar line, it's possible to get a wave as big as the image conveyed by the satellite Wednesday.

Storms this strong usually generate waves of 40 feet to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters).

But Landsea say the waves won't be anywhere in the same ballpark when they reach shore because they get smaller as the water gets shallower.

He also says that there is a chance that radar misinterpreted rain as an 83-foot wave.

Florence is such a huge storm that 12-foot (4-meter) seas extend for 345 miles (555 miles) from the storm's eye.

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1:15 p.m.

Mississippi is sending National Guard members and search-and-rescue workers to areas affected by Hurricane Florence.

Two swift-water rescue teams including local firefighters from 22 communities have gone to Virginia to help with rescue operations in case of flooding.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Greg Michel says Virginia is paying for the deployments under an interstate emergency-assistance compact. The Mississippi Office for Homeland Security says teams arrived Wednesday in the Virginia towns of Dublin and Pulaski.

Soldiers based in Meridian, Mississippi, will provide airlift support for relief after the storm using two CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Members of the Mississippi Air National Guard are deploying to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to help with relief planning and coordination.

More than 60 people are participating in the deployments.

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1:15 p.m.

A program that provides health care benefits to military families and retirees is making it easier to get care during evacuations related to Hurricane Florence.

The Defense Health Agency announced in a new release on Wednesday that it is waiving referral requirements for TRICARE beneficiaries under mandatory evacuation orders in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

TRICARE says this means beneficiaries from 40 counties in those states may see a provider in any location without a referral from their primary care provider.

The waiver is in effect until Sept. 21. TRICARE says it has about 1.5 million beneficiaries in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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12:55 p.m.

Georgia's governor has declared a state of emergency for all 159 counties as forecasters now say Hurricane Florence could take a southwest turn.

In a news release Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal says the state "is mobilizing all available resources to ensure public safety ahead of Hurricane Florence."

Deal's declaration Wednesday covers comes as the National Weather Service's storm forecast shows a chance that Florence's track might turn toward the southwest as it approaches the Carolinas later this week.

No storm watches or warnings are in effect for Georgia. But forecasters say there's an increased chance for tropical storm winds to reach Savannah.

Deal's emergency declaration cited potential "changes in the storm's trajectory" as well as an influx of evacuees coming to Georgia from the Carolinas. The order eases regulations on trucks hauling gasoline and relief supplies into Georgia.

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12:40 p.m.

Airlines are starting to cancel more flights as Hurricane Florence approaches the Southeast coast.

At midday Wednesday, tracking service FlightAware said more than 400 U.S. flights scheduled for Thursday had been canceled, most of them in the Southeast.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, four-fifths of Thursday's departures have been scrapped. Anywhere from about one-third to more than half of departures have been canceled in Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina, and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

The numbers are sure to rise as airlines begin cutting flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Airlines typically wait until about 24 hours before takeoff before canceling a flight.

Delta Air Lines says it's adding about 1,000 seats on flights to and from the Southeast for people trying to flee the storm.

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12:40 p.m.

Virginia has opened two state-managed shelters to assist people evacuating ahead of Hurricane Florence.

The shelters at Christopher Newport University in Newport News and at The College of William & Mary Williamsburg opened Wednesday morning.

Gov. Ralph Northam's office said in a statement that they are open to Virginians or residents of other states who have nowhere else to go. No identification or proof of residency is needed to seek shelter.

The facilities will provide only basic services, so anyone reporting to one is encouraged to bring supplies including a personal emergency kit, medications and medical equipment.

The statement says 24 localities across the state are opening local shelters as well. Cities and counties have been distributing information about those sites through their websites and social media pages.

Virginia is under a state of emergency as Florence approaches, and Northam has issued a mandatory evacuation order for around 245,000 people in the state's lowest-lying coastal areas.

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12:40 p.m.

Residents of South Carolina who thought they were going to be safe from Hurricane Florence are now rushing to prepare after a slight change in the forecast.

Current forecast models have the hurricane shifting south. Previously, North Carolina was forecast to be more at risk.

Chris Pennington was boarding up the windows of his Myrtle Beach house late Wednesday morning after noticing that the latest forecast has Florence coming inland nearly over his home.

Pennington says he is still leaning toward staying put, but that he'll keep a really close eye on the weather and leave by Thursday afternoon if necessary.

He says one reason for staying is that his wife would be available to help if needed at the local animal hospital where she works.

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12:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump is urging those in the path of Hurricane Florence to act now to "get out of its way."

Trump is telling residents, "Don't play games with it. It's a big one."

The president made his comments in a videotaped message from the Rose Garden that he tweeted out on Wednesday morning.

Trump says the federal government and first responders stand ready to assist, but even so, "bad things can happen when you're talking about a storm this size."

Trump is telling people in the Carolinas and Virginia: "it's heading your way. ... Be ready and God be with you."

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12:15 a.m.

The steady shift South that forecasters are expecting for Hurricane Florence has areas once thought to be in the clear worried. In Beaufort County, South Carolina, Emergency Management Division Commander Neil Baxley told residents Wednesday that they need to prepare for the worst - just in case.

Baxley says a direct hit from Florence could bring worse flooding than the state's great flood of 2015 after 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain fell on parts of the county. The flooding closed several bridges and isolated big parts of the marshy, low lying county.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced evacuations of Beaufort County on Monday, but then rescinded them the next day when forecasts appeared to be sending the storm into North Carolina.

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12:15 a.m.

Forecasters say conditions are still good for already powerful Hurricane Florence to strengthen a little as it moves over very warm waters.

Senior National Hurricane Center specialist Stacy Stewart says as the Category 4 Florence slows down and moves into shallower waters close to shore, the cooler sea temperatures and increasing contact with land will help reduce its strength.

But in a forecast discussion on the center's website Wednesday, Stewart stressed the weaker winds will not diminish hazards from the storm.

Stewart says the impacts of the storm will cover a wide area "regardless of exactly where the center of Florence moves."

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11:20 a.m.

Federal regulators are reviewing preparations for nuclear plants in the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday said it's sending additional inspectors to plants in North and South Carolina and is activating its regional incident response center in Atlanta, to provide around-the-clock staff support during the storm.

The NRC says Duke Energy's Brunswick nuclear plant south of Wilmington, North Carolina, could face hurricane-force winds, major storm surges and heavy rain.

Duke says it has a procedure to begin shutting down plants at least two hours before the arrival of hurricane-force winds. Duke also operates three nuclear plants in South Carolina, though none are on the coast.

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11:20 a.m.

U.S. Coast Guard crews in Charleston, South Carolina, are making final preparations ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence.

Capt. John Reed says the Coast Guard is asking people to heed evacuation orders and leave coastal areas. The Coast Guard says mariners shouldn't go out to sea in recreational boats and should use 911 and not social media to report life-threatening distress.

Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered people in coastal areas including Charleston to evacuate the area ahead of the Category 4 storm. Reed says the Coast Guard will work with local officials as soon as it's safe to assess waterways and help anyone in distress.

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11:20 a.m.

The mayor of a town outside Charleston, South Carolina, is telling people to "take control of your destiny" and leave town now before Hurricane Florence arrives.

Will Haynie is mayor of the Town of Mount Pleasant, just to the east of Charleston, South Carolina. He urged residents on Wednesday to get out of the path of the massive and powerful Category 4 storm, the likes of which he said the area hasn't seen since 1989's Hugo.

Haynie says local buses in the Charleston area will pick residents up and get them to shelters until 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Haynie says residents "can take control of your destiny by getting of the way of this dangerous storm."

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11:20 a.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is urging residents in evacuation zones to move to safety, saying the effects of Hurricane Florence are "only hours away."

Cooper spoke at a news conference Wednesday morning with other emergency management officials. The governor said there's still time for coastal residents to evacuate if their home is at risk and time for others to finish preparing for the storm.

Cooper says "disaster is at the doorstep, and it's coming in."

The governor added that "a lot of people that might normally stay through a hurricane have recognized that this one is different."

Shelters began opening Tuesday and more will open Wednesday.

Cooper says state flood plain experts have been modeling the storm's projected impacts and found that from the storm surge alone, tens of thousands of structures are expected to be flooded.

The governor also announced he had activated more National Guard soldiers. Emergency management officials said 3,000 would be on active duty by Wednesday evening, with more on standby.

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11:20 a.m.

The mayor of a South Carolina city in the projected path of Hurricane Florence says residents need to leave the area as soon as possible.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune told CNN on Wednesday that seeing the storm's newly projected path toward her city was like "waking up to a sucker punch."

To the city's roughly 32,000 residents, Bethune says Myrtle Beach "is not a place where you want to be" when the storm arrives.

Myrtle Beach is one of the state's tourism centers. It is among coastal areas under mandatory evacuation orders by Gov. Henry McMaster. Bethune says she's particularly worried about projected storm surge from the storm, which has slowed down and could linger along South Carolina's coast, dumping inches (centimeters) of rain.

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11:20 a.m.

Dozens of airmen are assembling at a New York Air National Guard base on Long Island to prepare for deployment to Southern states in the path of Hurricane Florence.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that 50 members of the 106th Rescue Wing based at Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach are preparing to travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. He says elements of the unit will depart as early as Wednesday afternoon to offer assistance along coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

The New York Army National Guard is ready to deploy four helicopters to help storm response efforts. The aircraft are based at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Rochester International Airport.

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11:05 a.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Florence is generating enormous waves, as high as 83 feet (25 meters) as it makes its way toward the East Coast.

The National Hurricane Center says the waves were measured by satellite.

The huge waves are being produced because currents are trapped by very strong winds moving in the same direction the storm's motion. The center's Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch is tweeting about the phenomenon.

The center of the storm is about 485 miles (785 kilometers) out to sea, with tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 175

miles (280 kilometers).

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11 a.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Florence is expected to steadily slow down as it makes its way toward the East Coast.

At 11 a.m., the storm was centered 485 miles (785 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving at 15 mph (24 kph).

It's a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm with 130 mph (215 kph) maximum sustained winds.

Some strengthening is forecast through Wednesday night, drawing energy from the warm water. Its winds could approach Category 5 strength, which means winds of 157 mph (253 kph) or higher.

Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Isaac was expected to pass south of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba. Hurricane Helene was expected to weaken over the eastern Atlantic. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.

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10:45 a.m.

Forecasters said Wednesday that Florence's wind field is expanding, making it a large, stable hurricane with a clearly defined eye at its center.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warns that a slight shift in Florence's forecast track does not mean that some communities north of the storm are now in the clear.

The "cone of error" in the forecast track only predicts where the storm's center might go, and even on its edges, winds can push a powerful storm surge into shore dozens of miles from where Florence's eyewall strikes land.

As Graham says, "just because you have a landfall to your south doesn't mean you're out of the woods, because the winds are huge around this system."

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10:30 a.m.

The Homeland Security Department is pushing back against a Democratic U.S. senator's claim that the Trump administration transferred nearly $10 million from the government's disaster relief agency to immigration enforcement.

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said the administration was taking money from FEMA's "response and recovery" to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency at a time when Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the Southeast U.S. coast.

But DHS officials said the money was transferred from unspent operational accounts for training, office supplies and headquarters costs. That funding cannot be spent on disaster response, they said. FEMA's annual budget is about $15 billion.

Merkley provided no evidence for his suggestion that the money came from hurricane response funds.

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9:30 a.m.

Jeff Byard of the Federal Emergency Management Agency says it is imperative locals heed the evacuation warnings.

He says the time to flee Hurricane Florence is now. Landfall was expected sometime late Thursday and FEMA officials said Wednesday was the last day for people to get out safely.

"Today's the day," he said. "It's time for our citizens to be a part of the team. Heed those warnings and evacuate if you're in one of the zones."

Byard told a news conference at FEMA headquarters in Washington that the agency has all the resources it needs to react to the natural disaster.

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8:55 a.m.

The mayor of a South Carolina city in the path of powerful Hurricane Florence is warning citizens to get out or stay "at your own peril."

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg told CNN on Wednesday that the nearly 135,000 residents of his historic coastal city should leave now before the storm arrives later in the week.

Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered evacuations in counties along the state's coast, including Charleston. All lanes of Interstate 26 are westbound to allow more people to leave the coast and head inland toward the state capital of Columbia.

Tecklenburg said his flood-prone city is preparing for "copious rain" by clearing out the city's drainage system and getting boats and portable pumps ready. Many areas in the low-lying city flood with routine rain storms, causing street closures and detours.

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8:30 a.m.

The National Weather Service says Hurricane Florence "will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast."

That's saying a lot, given the impacts from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew.

Forecasters in Wilmington, North Carolina, are emphasizing the potential for what they're calling "unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding."

With predicted rainfall measured in feet not inches, forecasters say people living along creeks and rivers in the Carolinas should move to higher ground well ahead of the storm's arrival.

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8 a.m.

The 8 a.m. forecast on Hurricane Florence reinforces projections that the storm’s path will shift slightly to the southeast as it closes in on the Carolinas.

The center of the Category 4 Hurricane, still swirling with top winds of 130 mph (215 kph), was about 530 miles (855 kilometers) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, approaching the coast at 17 mph (28 kph).

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says damaging winds and rain could begin hitting the coast late Thursday, pushing a storm surge that could reach 13 feet in places. Rain will continue through Sunday, dumping feet of water over a wide area.

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5 a.m.

A dangerous Hurricane Florence is steadily making its way to the U.S. East Coast.

At 5 a.m., the storm was centered 575 miles (925 km) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 17 mph (28 kph). Strengthening is forecast through Wednesday.

It was a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm but was expected to keep drawing energy from the warm water and intensify to near Category 5, which means winds of 157 mph (253 kph) or higher.

President Donald Trump declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina and Virginia, opening the way for federal aid.

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2:20 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Florence is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge and rainfall to portions of the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic states.

At 2 a.m., the storm was centered 625 miles (1,005 km) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 17 mph (28 kph). Strengthening is forecast through Wednesday. It was a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm but was expected to keep drawing energy from the warm water and intensify to near Category 5, which means winds of 157 mph (253 kph) or higher.

Forecasters say the center of Florence will move over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Wednesday, and approach the coast of the Carolinas in the hurricane warning area on Thursday and Friday.

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11 p.m.

Residents on the Carolina coast are finding empty gas pumps and depleted store shelves as they flee a potentially devastating blow from Hurricane Florence.

With the storm churning across the Atlantic with 140 mph winds, hurricane watches and warnings include the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the East Coast. A steady stream of vehicles filled with people and belongings is moving inland.

Forecasters say Florence is expected to blow ashore late Thursday or early Friday, then slow down and dump 1 to 2½ feet of rain that could cause flooding well inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

President Donald Trump declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina and Virginia, opening the way for federal aid.

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2 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is calling Hurricane Florence a "monster" that residents should not try to ride out in their homes.

At a news conference Tuesday, Cooper had a stern warning for coastal residents who have stayed in their homes during previous hurricanes including Fran in 1996, Floyd in 1999 and Matthew in 2016: This one is different.

Cooper told residents not to "bet your life on riding out a monster."

To reinforce this, Cooper announced he had issued what he called the first-of-its-kind mandatory evacuation order for North Carolina's fragile barrier islands from one end of the coast to the other. Typically local governments in North Carolina make the call on evacuations. Some, including those at the Outer Banks, have already issued orders for the island residents to leave.

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2 p.m.

Hurricane Florence is getting bigger as it targets the East Coast.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the hurricane stretched 340 miles (547 kilometers) across as of Tuesday afternoon. Hurricane-force winds extend up to 60 miles (95 kilometers) from the center. Tropical storm-force winds reach up to 170 miles (280 kilometers) from the eye.

By 2 p.m. Tuesday, Florence had maximum sustained winds near 130 mph (215 kph). It was centered about 845 miles (1,360 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west-northwest at 17 mph (28 kph). It will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas, then approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Helene has turned away from land as it moves over cooler ocean waters, and Tropical Storm Isaac is approaching the Caribbean.

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1:55 p.m.

Authorities in Dominica are opening shelters and warning they will turn off water and power as a precautionary measure as Tropical Storm Isaac approaches the eastern Caribbean.

Hurricane watches were issued Tuesday for Dominica and the nearby French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. A tropical storm watch was issued for Antigua and Montserrat.

The National Hurricane Center said Isaac will likely be a strong tropical storm when it reaches the eastern Caribbean early Thursday. It is expected to drop 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters) of rain with up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) in isolated areas.

Isaac is located 775 miles (1,250 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph). It was moving west at 16 mph (26 kph).

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1:55 p.m.

Recruits are being evacuated from the Marine Corps' largest training installation on the East Coast as Powerful Hurricane Florence approaches the Carolinas.

Brig. Gen. James Glynn issued the order Tuesday for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina. Glynn is commanding general of the depot.

The Corps says Marines currently in training will be sent to Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia, where they'll continue training until the storm has dissipated and it's safe to return to Parris Island.

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1:30 p.m.

North Carolina's governor has ordered a mandatory evacuation for the state's barrier islands as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that he had issued a first-of-its-kind state evacuation to help prompt residents of the barrier islands, including the Outer Banks, to leave.

Cooper said local governments are typically responsible for issuing evacuation orders in North Carolina, and some localities have already issued orders to evacuate.

But Cooper said he believed Florence will be "so fierce" that the state needs to provide an "added incentive" for people to leave.

Governors in South Carolina and Virginia have also issued mandatory evacuation orders ahead of the storm.

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1:30 p.m.

Meteorologists say they are expecting rainfall from Hurricane Florence to measure in feet, not inches.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Prediction Center forecasts as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain, if not more, for parts of North Carolina. Rain could reach as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) elsewhere in North Carolina, Virginia, parts of Maryland and Washington, D.C.

But one trusted computer model, the European simulation, is predicting more than 45 inches (114 centimeters) of rain in parts of North Carolina, such as New Hanover County, with meteorologists comparing the rainfall to last year's Hurricane Harvey.

A year ago people would have laughed off a forecast of 45 inches of rain, but the European model was accurate in predicting 60 inches (152 centimeters) of rain for Harvey.

University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy says it is "looking likely" that Florence will unleash feet (meters), not inches (centimeters) of rain.

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12:50 p.m.

President Donald Trump says the federal government is "absolutely, totally prepared" for Hurricane Florence as it heads toward the Eastern Seaboard.

The president briefed reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Tuesday.

Trump has declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina ahead of the Category 4 hurricane, which frees up help from federal agencies.

He has also canceled campaign events Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the storm.

The president was meeting with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency later Tuesday.

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12:50 p.m.

Some areas in Florence's path, particularly northern Virginia, have seen more rainfall than normal this summer, and National Weather Service officials say that means flooding might begin more quickly.

Data from the weather service show some parts of northern Virginia have seen 10 inches (25 centimeters) or more of precipitation above average over the past 90 days.

Fred Turck is part of the Virginia's Department of Forestry's fire and emergency response division. He says the department is concerned about what could be excessive timber damage. He says when soil is saturated, less wind than normally would be needed can topple a tree because the roots don't hold as well.

Turck says tree damage will result in short-term impacts like power outages, blocked roads and damaged structures but could also impact the long-term health of forests and lead to wildfire problem.

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12:30 p.m.

The mayor of Washington, D.C., has declared a state of emergency as the nation's capital prepares for heavy rains, flooding and power outages related to Hurricane Florence.

Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the move Tuesday morning, describing it as a necessary step to "ensure we have the resources and support" to handle several days of torrential rain.

Several public events and street festivals scheduled for this weekend have been canceled, and Bowser advised Washington residents to stock up on groceries and batteries and make sure their prescriptions are filled.

City officials say the primary dangers to residents will come from flash flooding and power lines downed by falling tree branches.

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12:15 p.m.

Some Virginians who have been ordered to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Florence may have to wait a few days before they can get into a free shelter.

Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokesman Jeff Caldwell said local governments are responsible for opening up shelters for evacuees and some won't open until Wednesday or Thursday.

Gov. Ralph Northam ordered a mandatory evacuation for some residents of low-lying coastal areas that went into effect at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The order affects 245,000 residents in the Hampton Roads area, the Eastern Shore and other coastal areas.

Caldwell said the state is considering opening its own shelters later this week if the local shelters fill to capacity.

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12:15 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is saying his state is "in the bull's-eye" of Hurricane Florence. The very center of that bull's-eye may be Camp Lejeune. Authorities on the sprawling Marine Corps training base are in emergency mode, staging equipment and urging families on the base to build survival kits with the food and equipment needed to sustain themselves for 72 hours.

Mandatory coastal evacuations were in effect for civilians in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, but the military base posted on Facebook that different chains-of-command would decide whether to release non-essential personnel. Some military families are venting fears they won't be able to evacuate in time.

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12:15 p.m.

Officials say they're taking steps to ensure safety at nuclear power plants in South Carolina as a Category 4 hurricane nears the state.

Ryan Mosier of Duke Energy told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the power company was closely monitoring Hurricane Florence and ensuring that emergency equipment is in working order.

Duke operates three nuclear stations in South Carolina, though none are along the coast. SCANA operates two reactors at a site just north of Columbia.

Mosier says each of Duke's sites has emergency generators for backup power, as well as pumps and other redundant systems and supplies of food and water for employees.

If forecasters predict any site will experience sustained winds of 73 mph (117 kph) or more, Mosier says operators will begin to shut down units at least two hours prior to impact.

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11:55 a.m.

Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas is preparing for a possible tropical storm system in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.

The tropical system is one of five that have formed in the Atlantic Ocean, including hurricanes Florence and Helene, Tropical Storm Isaac and an as-yet unnamed system far off the East Coast. Abbott says Texas is keeping an eye on the system in the Gulf.

The National Hurricane Center says that system could become a tropical depression by Thursday or Friday, and that residents along both the Texas and Louisiana coasts should monitor the storm.

Florence is the most powerful and dangerous of all the weather systems. The Category 4 hurricane with 130 mph (215 kph) winds was barreling toward the coasts of North and South Carolina and has been forecast to hit land as an extremely large, powerful and dangerous storm. Some coastal residents have been ordered to evacuate.

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11:30 a.m.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster says he has lifted mandatory evacuation orders in three counties along the state's southern coast. McMaster made the announcement Tuesday as forecasters continued to show Hurricane Florence's projected tract moving farther northward. McMaster also said lane reversals would begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday on Interstate 26, an hour earlier than had been scheduled, allowing all lanes of the interstate to move westward, away from the coast.

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10:55 a.m.

Forecasters say Florence will arrive on land as an extremely dangerous major hurricane by the end of the week.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Florence has maximum sustained winds near 130 mph (215 kph). By 11 a.m. Tuesday, Florence was centered about 905 miles (1,455 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west-northwest at 16 mph (25 kph). Its center will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday, then approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina.

Two other storms are spinning in the Atlantic as the 2018 hurricane season peaks: Tropical Storm Isaac is approaching the Caribbean, while Hurricane Helene is no threat to land over waters. As Isaac approaches the Caribbean, hurricane watches are in effect for Guadeloupe, Martinique and Dominica, while a tropical storm watch was issued for Antigua and Montserrat.

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10:50 a.m.

The Navy has authorized an emergency evacuation order ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence.

Rear Adm. Charles Rock is commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. He said in a statement Tuesday that the safety of personnel and families is his top priority now.

The order follows Virginia's evacuation order and remains in effect until Sept. 16. So far, state officials' tiered system only requires residents of the most flood-prone areas, known as "Zone A," to leave their homes.

The Navy's order applies to Navy and civilian personnel, dependents of active-duty service members and reservists on active duty living in Hampton Roads and Zone A.

The Navy says Region Mid-Atlantic evacuees are authorized to proceed within 500 miles (805 kilometers) of the designated remote safe haven area of Asheville, North Carolina. Others should head to the remote safe haven area designated by their parent chain of command.

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10:50 a.m.

The Virginia Department of Corrections has evacuated inmates from a coastal prison as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast.

The department said in a statement Tuesday that the Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake was evacuated Monday night after Gov. Ralph Northam issued a mandatory evacuation order for some of the state's lowest-lying coastal areas. The medium-security facility provides treatment programs for substance-abusing offenders.

The department also says all visitation statewide is canceled for Saturday and Sunday.

The National Hurricane Center says Florence is expected to approach the coast of North or South Carolina on Thursday, but Virginia is also under a state of emergency. Officials say the state is expecting a coastal storm surge, high wind, inland flooding and widespread power outages.

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10:50 a.m.

The Democrat running to be South Carolina's next governor has been called up for guard duty as the state prepares for the arrival of Hurricane Florence.

Campaign spokesman Brad Warthen tells The Associated Press that James Smith has been activated as part of his service as a major in the South Carolina Army National Guard.

Warthen didn't know specifically where Smith had been stationed, but the Army says guardsmen typically help when traffic patterns are altered for evacuations.

Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the evacuation of South Carolina's coastline. State troopers are clearing eastbound lanes of Interstate 26 so that they could be reversed later Tuesday.

Smith is challenging McMaster in this fall's election. On Monday, both candidates suspended their campaigns as the state gets ready for the storm.

The Army says the South Carolina National Guard has mobilized about 1,600 soldiers and airmen to prepare for Hurricane Florence.

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10:45 a.m.

South Carolina's governor has ordered more than a million people living along the state's coast to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Florence.

Gov. Henry McMaster says he's preparing the state for winds as powerful as Hurricane Hugo, which plowed inland nearly 30 years ago and caused devastating damage.

McMaster said on CNN Tuesday that officials are "taking nothing for granted" with Florence predicted to make landfall Thursday. The storm is so huge that South Carolina won't be spared even if it escapes the eye of the hurricane.

The evacuation order becomes mandatory at noon Tuesday, but cameras show traffic already backing up along the main interstate connecting Charleston and Columbia.

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10:30 a.m.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham is warning that the "staggering" size of Florence means its impacts will be felt far and wide.

Forecasters say hurricane-force winds extend up to 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the center of Hurricane Florence, and tropical storm-force winds reach up to 150 miles (240 kilometers) from its eye.

That means the hurricane will be dumping rain over multiple East Coast states, and it's not just a coastal problem. With torrential rains in the Appalachian mountains, that water could easily cause flash floods.

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10:20 a.m.

President Donald Trump is canceling a campaign rally in advance of Hurricane Florence's landfall.

His campaign says it's canceling a Thursday event in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where he had been scheduled to stump for the Republican senate candidate, state attorney general Josh Hawley.

The campaign said the event was scuttled out of safety concerns. It was the second rally Trump cancelled this week due to the storm, following a Friday rally slated for Mississippi.

The massive hurricane is closing in on the Carolinas and Virginia and could cause disastrous weather as far as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

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8 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says a new report from an Air Force Reserve Unit hurricane hunter aircraft indicates that Hurricane Florence's top sustained winds have decreased slightly to 130 mph (215 kph), with higher gusts.

Florence is still a Category 4 hurricane and is expected to regain its top wind strength in the next day or so. It remains an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday night.

The 8 a.m. forecast changes the storm surge watch for the eastern United States, with the worst impact, a surge of up to 12 feet, expected on a stretch from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout in North Carolina. It says total rainfall could reach 30 inches in some places, prompting life-threatening flash flooding from South Carolina to Northern Virginia.

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5:20 a.m.

Hurricane Florence has slightly increased in speed as it heads toward the U.S. East Coast.

The National Hurricane Center said Tuesday morning that Florence is moving toward the west-northwest near 15 mph (24 kmh) and the storm will continue a slight increase in speed during the next couple of days.

The Miami-based center says the storm's center was located about 410 miles (660 kilometers) south of Bermuda and about 975 miles (1570 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.

Maximum sustained winds were clocked at 140 mph (220 kph) as it moved west-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).

Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday night.

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11:10 p.m.

Hurricane Florence continues to grow in size and magnitude as it barrels toward the U.S. East Coast.

The National Hurricane Center said Monday the monster storm will be close to Category 5 strength by Tuesday. A Category 5 storm has the potential to cause catastrophic damage.

"The bottom line is that there is high confidence that Florence will be a large and extremely dangerous hurricane, regardless of its exact intensity," the hurricane center said. Florence was a Category 4 storm late afternoon Monday.

At 11 p.m. EDT, the storm's center was located about 465 miles (750 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda and about 1,085 miles (1745 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.

Maximum sustained winds were clocked at 140 mph (220 kph) as it moved west-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).

Some strengthening is expected during the next 36 hours, and Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday.

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10 p.m.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is urging residents to evacuate the state's coastal areas as Hurricane Florence moves closer to landfall.

Cooper's office said in a statement Monday that the Category 4 hurricane is expected to hit the Wilmington area on Thursday, but impacts of the storm will likely begin Wednesday. Cooper says the state faces three threats from Florence: "ocean surge along our coast, strong winds, and inland flooding from heavy rain."

Counties that have ordered evacuations are Bertie, Brunswick, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, New Hanover and Onslow. The statement says more evacuation orders are expected on Tuesday.

Residents are also urged to download the Ready NC app or follow NC Emergency Management on Facebook and Twitter for weather updates and to learn how to prepare for the storm.

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6:05 p.m.

Virginia's governor has ordered a mandatory evacuation for some residents of low-lying coastal areas as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced at a press conference Monday that the evacuation order set to begin Tuesday at 8 a.m. applies to parts of the Hampton Roads area and Eastern Shore. State officials say 245,000 people live in the affected area.

Northam says the evacuation zone includes the most flood-prone coastal areas.

The governor is urging all Virginia residents to prepare for the storm, which he says will affect the entire state.

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5:30 p.m.

Airlines are starting to let passengers change plans that include travel into the possible path of Hurricane Florence.

American Airlines said Monday it'll waive fees for customers who are booked on flights Thursday through Sunday on flights to, from or through about two dozen cities in the Southeast including Charlotte, North Carolina, if they reschedule to no later than Sept. 19. Change fees are typically $200 for domestic flights.

Southwest Airlines says customers booked on flights Wednesday through Sunday in six cities including Charlotte can rebook or travel standby at no additional charge.

Delta and United websites did not show waivers as of midday Monday morning.

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5 p.m.

Hurricane Florence continues to grow in size and strength as it barrels toward the U.S. East Coast.

The National Hurricane Center said Monday the monster storm continues to intensify and will be close to Category 5 strength by Tuesday. A Category 5 storm has the potential to cause catastrophic damage.

"The bottom line is that there is high confidence that Florence will be a large and extremely dangerous hurricane, regardless of its exact intensity," the hurricane center said. Florence was a Category 4 storm late afternoon Monday.

At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm's center was located about 525 miles (845 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda and about 1,170 miles (1880 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.

Maximum sustained winds were clocked at 140 mph (220 kph) as it moved west-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).

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4 p.m.

The governor of Maryland has declared a state of emergency in preparation for significant flooding from Hurricane Florence.

Gov. Larry Hogan made the announcement at a news conference Monday. While the governor noted there is still some uncertainty about the track of the storm, he says Maryland officials are "preparing for the potential of historic, catastrophic and life-threatening flooding in Maryland."

Hogan says the declaration of emergency is a planning measure to ensure all necessary resources are mobilized in areas of the state with greatest potential need.

He says coastal and low-lying areas are of particular concern, as well as parts of the state that already have received substantial rainfall over the last few days.

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3:40 p.m.

The mayor of Richmond has declared a state of emergency as Virginia's capital city braces for significant rain from Hurricane Florence.

Mayor Levar Stoney said Monday that even though the city is not expected to receive a direct impact from the hurricane, it is likely to mean heavy rain, strong winds, possible flooding and power outages.

Stoney urged residents to prepare now by gathering supplies, including nonperishable food, water, flashlights, and batteries. He said the city's emergency operations center will be partially activated Wednesday and fully activated on Thursday.

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A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for residents living along the entire South Carolina coast.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the evacuation to start at noon Tuesday as Hurricane Florence approaches. The order applies to all eight counties along the coast: Jasper, Beaufort, Colleton, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, and Berkeley counties.

He says storm surge could reach as high as 10 feet (3 meters) and estimates 1 million residents will be leaving the coast. Eastbound lanes of Interstate 26 heading into Charleston and U.S. 501 heading into Myrtle Beach will be reversed when the order takes effect.

McMaster has already declared a state of emergency in South Carolina and asked President Donald Trump for a federal declaration ahead of the storm, which intensified Monday to a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph (195 kph).

Forecasters say the hurricane's strength is expected to fluctuate but it still will be a dangerous storm by the time it reaches the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday.

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1:45 p.m.

North Carolina's governor says consistency of the Hurricane Florence's forecast track toward the Carolinas has helped the state understand the threat early on and given it time to get ready.

Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference at the state's Emergency Operations Center that the North Carolina is in the "bull's-eye" of the rapidly strengthening storm.

Cooper said he asked President Donald Trump for a federal disaster declaration so that resources will be ready when the storm arrives. Cooper already issued a state of emergency late last week.

The governor said residents should prepare for ocean surge, strong winds, and inland flooding. Thousands of law enforcement officers, National Guard troops, and government workers are focusing on storm preparations.

State emergency management officials already are considering whether to recommend counties evacuate some homes along the Tar, Lumber and Neuse rivers. High waters from the rivers impacted homes and businesses after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

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1 p.m.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that Florence was forecast to slow down significantly once it reaches shore and linger over the Carolinas. Predictions for heavy rainfall stretched into West Virginia.

"When you stall a system like this and it moves real slow, some of that rainfall can extend well away from the center," Graham said. "It's not just the coast."

He warned people living on the coasts and well inland to prepare to lose power, among other storm impacts. "Rain plus winds equals a lot of trees down and power outages that could be for an extended period of time," Graham said.

Elsewhere in the busy tropics, Graham said Hurricane Isaac was expected to lose strength as it reaches the Caribbean, but it could still bring rain and strong winds to parts of Puerto Rico.

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12:10 p.m.

Florence has become even stronger over the Atlantic Ocean.

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 mph (195 kph).

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.

Forecasters say the hurricane's strength is expected to fluctuate but it still will be a dangerous storm by the time it reaches the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday.

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

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11 a.m.

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

Navy spokeswoman Alana Garas said the ships will disembark Monday from naval bases including the world's largest in Norfolk. The ships will head to portions of the Atlantic where they can avoid the storm.

Some ships will stay behind because they're undergoing maintenance and may be tied down with additional mooring and storm lines.

Meanwhile, naval bases near Virginia's coast are also sandbagging flood prone areas and topping off fuel generators.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center have said Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous storm by the time it nears the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday.

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11:30 a.m.

North Carolina's governor has urged residents to get prepared for Hurricane Florence as forecasters predict the state could be in the "bullseye" of the storm.

Gov. Roy Cooper said the state is bracing for three threats from Hurricane Florence: ocean surges along the coast, strong winds, and island flooding. He said North Carolina is "bracing for a hard hit" in what forecasters say will be a statewide event.

Evacuations of coastal communities began Monday and are expected to continue over the next few days.

Cooper said 200 National Guard troops have already been activated. He's also asked President Donald Trump for a disaster declaration so the state can get federal help as quickly as possible.

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  11: 10 a.m.

Officials along in North Carolina's coast are issuing a mandatory evacuation order for all visitors and residents on Hatteras Island as Hurricane Florence moves closer to the East Coast.

Dare County officials have announced that a mandatory evacuation order goes into effect on Hatteras Island at noon Monday. A mandatory evacuation for residents and visitors in other areas of the county goes into effect at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency and is urging all North Carolinians to prepare.

The state's Division of Marine Fisheries is also calling on fishermen to start preparing and should remove fishing gear from the water well before the storm arrives. Vessel owners should make sure to check safety equipment is working and remove boats from the water or take them to safe harbor as the storm approaches.

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11 a.m.

Hurricane Florence has strengthened into a Category 3 storm with 115 mph (185 kph) maximum-sustained winds as it swirls toward the U.S. East Coast.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous storm by the time it nears the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday.

As of 11 a.m. EDT, Florence was centered about 580 miles (935 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda, moving west at 13 mph (20 kph).

Far behind Florence is Hurricane Isaac, which had maximum sustained winds at 75 mph (120 kph). Isaac was centered about 1,150 miles (1,855 kilometers) east of the Windward Islands and moving west at 14 mph (22 kph).

The hurricane center says Isaac is a very small hurricane and its intensity could fluctuate as it approaches the Caribbean. However it's still expected to be at or near hurricane strength by the time it reaches the Lesser Antilles.

Forecasters said Hurricane Helene was strengthening far from land over the open Atlantic, centered about 375 miles (600 kilometers) west of the southernmost Cabo Verde Islands.

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9:45 a.m.

The current forecast for Hurricane Florence means the North Carolina coast could face a storm of unprecedented strength.

North Carolina has only been hit by one Category 4 hurricane since reliable records have been kept more than 150 years ago. Hurricane Hazel came ashore at the South Carolina-North Carolina state line with winds of 130 mph (209 kph) in 1954.

The state has only been hit by about a dozen Category 3 storms since 1850. The last was Hurricane Fran in 1996, which came ashore near Wilmington. South Carolina has been hit by three Category 4 storms: Hazel; Gracie, in 1959; and Hugo, in 1989.

Forecasters said Monday the storm to come ashore by late Thursday or early Friday. Some computer models show the storm making landfall near Wilmington, south of the Outer Banks. But it was still too early to predict an exact path for the storm.

Some computer models predicted Wilmington area south of the Outer Banks, but it was still too early to predict an exact path for the storm.

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9 a.m.

Hurricane Florence is aiming for a region of the U.S. East Coast that is especially vulnerable to storm surge and flooding from heavy rains.

Experts have warned for years of the danger hurricanes pose to a region stretching from Virginia Beach at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to Charleston, South Carolina, where the land is sinking and the ocean is rising at some of the highest rates on the East Coast.

The Center for Sea Level Rise at Old Dominion University in Virginia says cities built on low coastal planes and former creek beds are particularly vulnerable.

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8 a.m.

Hurricane Florence appears to be taking aim at the largest U.S. Marine Corps base on the East Coast.

Camp Lejeune has an extensive beachfront about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and its well within the National Hurricane Center's forecast "cone."

The hurricane's path was still far from certain Monday. The rapidly intensifying storm could strike a direct and dangerous blow anywhere from the Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic region later this week, possibly as a fearsome category 4.

If the center of the hurricane does come ashore in the Wilmington area, some of the strongest winds and rain could strike the sprawling Marine base since much of the worst weather will be in the northeast quadrant of the storm.

Camp Lejeune says in a statement that it's urging personnel to prepare now, and will open shelters on the base if necessary.

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5:15 a.m.

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.

The Miami-based center said in its 5 a.m. ET advisory that Florence was about 625 miles (1,005 kilometers) southeast of Bermuda, moving west northwest at 9 mph (15 kmh). An increase in forward speed is expected over the next couple of days.

Its maximum sustained winds are at 105 mph (165 kmh). Drawing energy from the warm water, the now Category 2 storm could be a fearsome Category 4 with winds of 130 mph (209 kph) or more by Tuesday. Florence is expected to remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday.

Hurricane Isaac is holding steady in strength over the Atlantic.

Forecasters say that storm was about 1230 miles (1985 kilometers) east of the Windward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kmh). The storm was moving west at 13 mph (20 kmh).

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3:00 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Isaac has become the fifth hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season.

The Miami-based center said late Sunday that Isaac was about 1305 miles (2100 kilometers) east of the Windward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kmh). The storm was moving west at 14 mph (22 kmh) and expected to accelerate over the next 36 hours.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 10 miles (20kilometers) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles (75 kilometers).

A westward motion is forecast to continue through the end of the week, with Isaac expected to move across the Lesser Antilles and into the eastern Caribbean Sea Wednesday night or Thursday. Weakening is forecast to begin by the middle of the week.

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11 p.m.

Rapidly intensifying Hurricane Florence could strike a direct and dangerous blow anywhere from the Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic region later this week.

Florence crossed the 74 mph threshold from tropical storm to a hurricane Sunday morning, and by evening its winds were up to 85 mph (140 kph) as the National Hurricane Center warned a hurricane hunter plane found the storm strengthening quickly.

As of 11 p.m. EDT, Florence was centered about 685 miles (1,100 kilometers) southeast of Bermuda, moving west at 7 mph (11 kmh). Its maximum sustained winds are at 90 mph (150 kmh). Drawing energy from the warm water, it could be a fearsome Category 4 with winds of 130 mph (209 kph) or more by Tuesday