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Should Florence make landfall as a Category 4, it would be the first Category 4 hurricane since Hazel in 1954 to hit North Carolina.

In the case of these recent flights, the hurricane hunters helped confirm that "Florence is expected to be an extremely unsafe major storm through Thursday night", according to the National Hurricane Center. SC and North Carolina have ordered evacuations for people living in vulnerable areas along the coast.

"We're going to get a lot of rainfall in a relatively short time", he said, adding flooding could be "life-changing" for many.

Forecast models have said that several feet of heavy rain could cause flooding well inland from the coast.

As of early Monday, the storm was getting stronger, with maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour.

Nasa said the storm, now brewing above the Atlantic Ocean, had weakened to Category 1 strength, but is expected to strengthen into a Category 3 hurricane by the time it makes landfall on the U.S. mainland. Forecasters said it now has maximum sustained winds of about 140 miles per hour and even stronger gusts, in the NHC's latest update. He said it is expected to produce two to three feet of rain, mostly centred on North Carolina, Virginia, and the northern sections of SC.

Mr Sosnowski warned: "As we have seen with hurricanes in most recent years, such as Lane in Hawaii earlier this summer and Harvey last year in Texas, feet of rain can fall when these tropical storms stall".

South Carolina's governor ordered the state's entire coastline to be evacuated starting at noon Tuesday and predicted that 1 million people would flee.

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US President Donald Trump signed declarations of emergency on Tuesday for both North Carolina and SC, freeing up federal money and resources for storm response. On the current forecast track the center of Florence will move over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas through Wednesday.

Projected rainfall from Hurricane Florence. SC governor Henry McMaster also suspended his campaign and asked President Donald Trump for a federal emergency declaration.

A warm ocean gives hurricanes their fuel, and Florence is moving over an area with water temperatures nearing 85 degrees, hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote.

Hurricane Florence is picking up steam as it approaches the strength of a Category 5 storm.

Airlines, including American and Southwest, have started letting passengers change travel plans that take them into the hurricane's possible path. She said it was built in 2009 in Buxton, North Carolina, up on a ridge, and made to withstand a hurricane.

The strengthening storm could be one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades, potentially carrying winds of up to 155 miles per hour.

"This is not a storm that people need to ride out", Cooper told reporters.