420K residents have fled the SC coast ahead of huge Hurricane Florence

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Carrying winds of up to 220 km/h, Hurricane Florence - a Category 4 storm - is expected to strengthen and possibly become Category 5 on Tuesday.

Hurricane-force winds began whipping North Carolina, as federal emergency management officials warned that the Category 2 hurricane - while weakening slightly - remains a "very unsafe storm" capable of wreaking havoc along a wide swathe of the coast.

The National Hurricane Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that Hurricane Florence may lead to a life-threatening storm surge and rainfall.

The governors of North and SC and Virginia declared states of emergency far ahead of the approaching storm.

If Hurricane Florence lands as a powerhouse Category 4 storm along the East Coast later this week, the damage could be extensive - and long-lasting. If Florence slows to a crawl just off the coast, it could bring torrential rain to the Appalachian mountains and as far away as West Virginia, causing flash floods, mudslides and other risky conditions.

"This is one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast in many years", President Donald Trump warned on Twitter.

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

The Dare County Commission ordered evacuations of Hatteras Island, also part of the Outer Banks, on Monday and Tuesday.

"As a result, people from southeastern Virginia to southern New Jersey could have damaging winds and significant coastal flooding, even if Florence hovers or moves ashore in North Carolina".

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The Isle of Palms is giving away free sand in preparation for Hurricane Florence. "On the forecast track, Isaac should move across the Lesser Antilles and into the eastern Caribbean Sea on Thursday (Sept. 13)", the NHC said. "If you are given an evacuation order, please comply immediately before roads get clogged and chaos commences".

"Our ships can better weather storms of this magnitude when they are underway", Adm. Christopher Grady said in a statement. He estimated a million people will be affected by the order, including residents and visitors.

Drivers in Virginia could see a temporary surge in gas prices this week as Hurricane Florence begins to affect the East Coast, according to AAA Tidewater Virginia. The California Emergency Services Act also includes possibilities of a fine up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to six months.

Evacuation shelter locations for those evacuating from the state's northern and central coastal counties will be available on scemd.org, McMaster said.

The first tropical storm force winds are expected in Wilmington sometime Wednesday.

If the storm stalls, some areas could see feet of rain, especially if downpours focus over the higher terrain in western North Carolina and southwestern and central Virginia Authorities said such volume could cause flash floods, mudslides, and other unsafe conditions.

"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", Sosnowski said.

Hundreds of thousands of people are under evacuation orders in Virginia and the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence gets closer to its anticipated landfall later this week. Wind speeds are higher - in the 130-156 mile-per-hour range.