Florence gains in strength as it heads towards southeastern U.S. coast

As Hurricane Florence gains strength in the Atlantic on a probable track for landfall in the Carolina’s, members of Missouri Task Force 1 in Columbia and the American Red Cross are preparing to deploy to the Carolina’s.

Airlines have started letting 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 the 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 lingers 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 inland 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 Frida. 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 wells 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 kph). An increase in forward speed is expected over the next couple of days.

Its maximum sustained winds are at 105 mph (165 kph). 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 kph). The storm was moving west at 13 mph (20 kph).

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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 kph). The storm was moving west at 14 mph (22 kph) 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 kph). Its maximum sustained winds are at 90 mph (150 kph). Drawing energy from the warm water, it could be a fearsome Category 4 with winds of 130 mph (209 kph) or more by Tuesday