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Residents scrambled to flee en masse as the menacing Category 4 storm packing winds of 220 kilometers per hour bore down on the East Coast of the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration was harshly criticized as being slow to respond to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, cancelled a political rally planned for Friday in Jackson, Mississippi, over safety concerns related to Florence, his campaign said.

"Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!"

"Let me be clear: North Carolina is taking Hurricane Florence seriously and you should too", Mr Cooper said at a news conference.

The evacuation order becomes mandatory at noon Tuesday, but cameras show traffic already backing up along the main interstate connecting Charleston and Columbia.

Florence is forecast to make landfall in North Carolina late Thursday as a major hurricane and subject the region to high winds and heavy rain. This includes cities in the path of Florence such as Wilmington and Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia.

If Florence stalls over the East Coast, it would be another example of that slowing trend.

The athletics department is now monitoring the forecast for Hurricane Florence.

In August, the National Hurricane Center reduced the number of tropical systems expected from 10-16 named storms to 9-14.

The NHC is already warning for the possibility of "life-threatening inundation" from storm surge from Edisto Beach, South Carolina to the North Carolina-Virginia border in the next 48 hours.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has activated Texas Task Force 1, which is sponsored by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, in response to hurricanes bearing down on the Eastern U.S. and Hawaii.

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The storm is now around 400 miles south of Bermuda and is moving at 16 mph.

"The bottom line is that there is increasing confidence that Florence will be a large and extremely risky hurricane, regardless of its exact intensity", he said.

"Florence has continued to rapidly strengthen", the NHC said.

It added: "The largest threat to life from hurricanes is not the high winds".

South Carolina National Guard soldiers transfer bulk diesel fuel into fuel tanker trucks for distribution in advance of Hurricane Florence, in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. Hurricane-to-tropical-storm-force winds could extend inland, depending on the storm's track.

At this height of the Atlantic hurricane season, Florence was being trailed on east-to-west paths by two other hurricanes, Helene and Isaac. Governors in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia have issued mandatory evacuations and lane reversals.

A Category 4 hurricane can cause catastrophic damage, the hurricane center warned: "Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls", the hurricane center said.

Storm surge could be as high as 6 to 12 feet from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout on North Carolina's southeast coast.

That means the hurricane will be dumping rain over multiple East Coast states, and it's not just a coastal problem.

Hurricane Florence has been quickly strengthening Monday and is on route to severely impact the Carolinas at the end of the week. Its centre will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and approach the coast of South or North Carolina on Thursday, the National Hurricane Centre said.


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