Hurricane Florence strengthens, churns toward U.S. Southeast coast

Hurricane Florence strengthens, churns toward U.S. Southeast coast

The latest update shows Florence as a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour.

Further out in the Atlantic, two storms - Helene and Isaac - gained hurricane force on Sunday.

Category 1 hurricane Florence gained strength on Sunday in the central Atlantic and is expected to turn into a major storm by Monday night as it churns over the open ocean and heads towards the U.S. East Coast, the U.S. hurricane agency said.

Only ten hurricane have made landfall on the Southeast coast since 1851, and if Florence hits North Carolina as a Category 4 it will be the strongest storm to ever come ashore that far north.

There are no coastal watches or warnings in effect at this time, but Met Service said strengthening is forecast during the next few days and Isaac is expected to become a hurricane by Monday.

Gardner said the storm could move slowly once it reaches land, which produces more rain. At 5 p.m. EDT Sunday, Florence had top sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph) and was centered about 720 miles (1,160 kilometers) southeast of Bermuda while moving westward at 7 mph (11 kph).

On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency, making it possible to waive the state's transportation rules so North Carolina farmers can harvest and transport their crops to market faster.

Forecasters urged residents from SC to the mid-Atlantic to get ready - and not just for a possible direct blow against the coast. A Category 4 storm packs winds of 130 miles per hour or more and has the potential for catastrophic damage.

Red flags flying on beaches warned swimmers to stay out of waters as seas began kicking up.

The Miami-based center said that it was still too early to predict the hurricane's exact path but that a huge coastal area from SC to the mid-Atlantic region should prepare for a major strike late in the week.

"The South Carolina Emergency Management Division tweeted Sunday that officials there are "preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster".

In South Carolina, Charleston city officials were offering sandbags for residents to fill.

Myrtle Beach hardware stores and supermarkets were busy ringing up sales of bottled water, plywood and generators.

In Jacksonville, North Carolina, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the coast, some residents picked up hurricane supplies during their normal weekend shopping, The Daily News reported. University officials said that students are encouraged, but not required, to leave campus and all classes will be canceled.

In southeast Virginia, Naval Station Norfolk told its employees they should not leave their vehicles parked at the sprawling base in coming days because of the flood threat.

The Navy planned to send ships from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia out to sea.

Carnival Cruise Line said Sunday that it had changed the schedule of its cruise ships to accommodate tropical weather threats.

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