ATLANTA (AP) – 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).
The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have already declared states of emergency in preparation for landfall, which is expected sometime late Thursday along the southern North Carolina coast.
North Carolina Gov. Roy 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.
The U.S. Navy has also sent nearly 30 of its ships based in Virginia out to sea to avoid the storm.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that Florence was forecast to slow down significantly once it reaches shore and linger 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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