Evacuations have been ordered as the US East Coast braces for Hurricane Florence – in what may be the strongest storm to hit the region in two decades.
South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia have declared states of emergency, and residents are stocking up on essential supplies.
Officials say Florence is now a category three storm with 115mph (183km/h) winds, and gaining strength.
It is expected to strike the Carolinas by Thursday.
Florence – which was 1,200 miles (2,000km) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, on Monday morning – could reach category four as its draws strength from the warm Atlantic waters, say forecasters.
It would be the first category three storm to hit the region since Fran ravaged North Carolina 1996. It would be the first East Coast hurricane since Jeanne struck Florida in 2004.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says Florence may bring catastrophic levels of rain and flooding to coastal and inland regions.
The National Weather Service warned it may be “an extremely dangerous major hurricane” by the time it made landfall.
The Miami-based NHC said: “There is an increasing risk of life-threatening impacts from Florence: storm surge at the coast, freshwater flooding from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event inland, and damaging hurricane-force winds.”
The agency called Florence an “extremely dangerous” weather event.
“Somebody is going to suffer devastating damage if this storm continues as it is currently forecast,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Miller told The State newspaper in South Carolina.
States of emergency
North Carolina officials on Monday ordered residents to evacuate the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands.
There have been long queues in supermarkets around communities near waterways and coastlines as residents clear shelves of water, batteries and plywood.
South Carolina’s state emergency management agency said on Sunday that it is “preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster”.
“Pretend, assume, presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of South Carolina and is going to go way inshore,” said South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.
In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper waived agricultural transportation restrictions in order to allow farmers to move goods more quickly.
“During harvest, time is of the essence. Action today can avoid losses due to Florence.”
Red flag warnings are keeping swimmers off beaches, as residents sandbag their homes in the communities of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, and the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
“Literally, they are filling buggies full of water, shopping carts full of water,” Ryan Deeck, grocery department manager at a Walmart, told The Sun News in Myrtle Beach.
Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval installation in the world, is preparing to send ships away from bases to weather the storm out at sea.
Two other hurricanes are currently churning in the Atlantic Ocean.
Hurricanes Isaac and Helene are expected to accelerate over the next several hours, but at this point, are not expected to threaten the US mainland.