Florence Bears Down on East Coast as 'Potentially Catastrophic' Major Hurricane

Hurricane Florence has rapidly intensified into a "potentially catastrophic" Category 4 major hurricane with 130 mph winds as it makes its way toward the U.S. East Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Florence reached Category 3 earlier Monday and quickly gained intensity over warm Atlantic waters. The hurricane's strength is expected to fluctuate but will be a dangerous storm when it makes landfall later this week.

As of 11 a.m. ET, the storm sits 575 miles southeast of Bermuda and is likely to reach the East Coast later this week with life-threatening storm surge, destructive winds and massive inland rainfall flooding.

Moving west at 13 mph, Florence is expected to near the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday.

In the Outer Banks of North Carolina, mandatory evacuations are taking place on Hatteras Island, according to Dare County Emergency Management. The barrier islands are expected to see severe impacts from the hurricane.

"During extreme events, even those areas which normally do not flood are at risk," read a report from the National Weather Service in a Monday morning statement.

South Carolina is also bracing for a direct hit.

"A hurricane is coming our way. Pretend, assume, presume that a major hurricane is going to hit South Carolina. Be prepared. Be ready," said Gov. Henry McMaster.

"Whatever happens, we're going to have a lot of rain and a lot of wind, even if the hurricane goes farther north," he added.

Both North and South Carolina, as well as Virginia, declared emergencies on Sunday. Governors from all three states warned their residents to prepare now for the storm.

"While the impacts of Tropical Storm Florence to Virginia are still uncertain, forecasts increasingly expect the storm to strengthen into a major hurricane that could seriously affect the East Coast and Virginians," Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam told reporters on Saturday.

"We are preparing for the worst, and of course hoping for the best," added McMaster in his own press release, adding that he made his declaration early to ensure that state agencies could deploy assets quickly.

"Action today can avoid losses due to Florence," said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in a statement. Cooper advised residents to learn their evacuation routes, fuel their vehicles and prepare for the possibility of leaving in a hurry.

The National Hurricane Center warned Sunday that all predictions about Florence are in their preliminary stages, as the storm's too far off to guess precisely where it will go. But current models show it striking the East Coast anywhere between Florida and Washington D.C.

The center expects the biggest threats from Florence to be "life-threatening surf and rip current conditions."

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Meanwhile, behind Florence is Hurricane Isaac, which had maximum sustained wins at 75 mph and was centered about 1,150 miles east of the Windward Islands, moving west at 14 mph.

While the hurricane center says Isaac is a very small hurricane, its intensity could fluctuate as it approaches the Caribbean — but it's still expected to be at or near hurricane strength by the time it reaches the Lesser Antilles.