Region now under hurricane, storm surge watches

A satellite image shows Hurricane Florence bearing toward the coast of North Carolina. The storm is predicted to make landfall as a major hurricane late this week

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The menacing Category 4 storm packed winds of 130 miles (215 kilometers) per hour over the Atlantic. Even normal water is warm enough for a storm to form there, but this adds to the storm's fuel and its rainfall. "Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!"

While some said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings that include the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the East Coast, many weren't taking any chances. Colleton, Beaufort, and Jasper counties are no longer under the mandatory evacuations.

The governor of neighboring North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination, and parts of coastal Dare County. "We can't know for certain the amount of damage the storm will inflict, but the sensible decision at this time is to not play the game".

SC lifted mandatory evacuation orders for three coastal counties as the storm's path became more certain. "This evacuation is for the safety of thousands of Virginians living in that zone". For those not in the storm's direct path, officials are still warning about the residual high winds, heavy rain, and potential flooding.

Trump approved emergency declarations for the Carolinas, a standard move allowing the release of federal funds and equipment to aid in protection and recovery efforts.

President Donald Trump is canceling a campaign rally in advance of Hurricane Florence's landfall. The mayor of Washington, DC also has declared a state of emergency as the nation's capital prepares for heavy rains, flooding and power outages related to Hurricane Florence. It may be the strongest storm to hit the region in decades.

On Tuesday afternoon, data from an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft showed that Florence's sustained winds had picked up in speed again, hovering close to 140 miles per hour.

Florence was about 405 miles south of Bermuda and its center was forecast to move between Bermuda and the Bahamas through Wednesday, before approaching the coast of North Carolina or SC on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its 8:00 am (1200 GMT) advisory. But more than 10 inches is forecast for a larger area, including most of eastern North Carolina inland to just north of Richmond, Virginia.

The National Hurricane Center said Monday the monster storm will be close to Category 5 strength by Tuesday. The storm's most likely landfall will be between northern SC and North Carolina's Outer Banks on Thursday. "We remain ready in case this (hurricane) track continues to shift southward", he said.

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Baxley said the possibility of re-implementing the evacuation later this week "remains on the table".

"Cotton is probably the most vulnerable crop from this storm", McIntosh says.

"It doesn't matter what happened in (previous) storms", said LaRoche, a social services director.

Early Tuesday, authorities began closing inbound lanes of Interstate 26 into Charleston to help facilitate the traffic flow of those wanting to get out.

A hurricane warning remains in effect for all of the N.C. coast and into SC.

"This is a huge storm", said Robert Woodward, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners. "Our social media, over the next few days, is going to pump out information about the storm".

Helene is one of three major storms now swirling in the Atlantic.

As for the two other tropical storms spinning westward across the Atlantic - Isaac and Helene - both are also expected to steer clear of Canadian territory.

Maximum sustained winds were clocked at 140 miles per hour (220 kph) as it moved west-northwest at 13 miles per hour (20 kph).

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