Monster storm prompts evacuation orders in three U.S. states

Mandatory evacuations issued for Outer Banks ahead of Florence

The slow-moving storm, the most severe hurricane to threaten the US mainland this year, was rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and located about 905 miles (1,455 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), according to the NHC.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says it expects the storm to make landfall in North Carolina or SC late Thursday into Friday as "an extremely unsafe major hurricane".

"It's going to be inconvenient, but we do not want to risk one South Carolina life in this hurricane", said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.

A storm surge warning was issued from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Duck, North Carolina, and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, including the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers. But, it's the water, not the wind, that has the potential to make the storm so deadly, experts say.

Florence is expected to make landfall in the southeast or mid-Atlantic region of the United States as early as Thursday night, posing a serious threat to lives.

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Florence is a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 220 kilometers per hour and forecasters think it will gain more strength Tuesday or Wednesday.

As of noon Tuesday, the storm was about 1,230 miles southeast of the Cape Fear region, according to the National Weather Service.

Florence's large size - tropical storm force winds extend 170 miles from the center in all directions - means its fury will arrive long before the center of the storm comes ashore, Graham said.

Many coastal residents in North and SC have already evacuated. Other counties are evacuating low lying and flood prone areas.

It's then forecast to close in on North or SC on Thursday local time, hitting a stretch of coastline that's vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change.

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"You're going to get heavy rain, catastrophic, life-threatening storm surge, and also the winds", Graham said.

In the reprieve of the storm's eye, NOAA hurricane scientist Heather Holbach captured Atlantic blue skies above Florence's towering vertical walls from the hurricane hunter aircraft.

North Carolina State postponed its home game against West Virginia University in Raleigh, North Carolina, adding that tickets will remain valid if the schools are able to reschedule the contest for later in the season.

A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 30C, hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote.

The first significant impact will be from the hurricane force winds. Seven other UNC athletic events are also canceled or postponed because of Hurricane Florence. Even if you've ridden out storms before, this one is different.

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