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Millions are preparing for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard of the US in decades, with mandatory evacuations already issued for parts of three East Coast states.

Hurricane Florence remained a powerful Category 4 storm early Tuesday morning.

The storm may bring landslides, up to 20 inches of rain and flash flooding for the Hawaiian islands.

Forecasters said Florence could become an extremely unsafe major hurricane sometime Monday and remain that way for days.

The governors of Virginia, Maryland, and North and SC have declared states of emergency ahead of the storm.

The storm's first effects were already apparent on barrier islands as risky rip currents hit beaches and seawater flowed over the road. Ray Cooper said at a news conference Monday.

SC governor Henry McMaster has ordered the evacuation of the entire 187-mile coastline of the Palmetto State, effective at noon on Tuesday, in anticipation of powerful Hurricane Florence approaching the east coast of the United States.

Residents in eight counties along the coast - Jasper, Beaufort, Colleton, Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley, Georgetown and Horry - must begin evacuating by noon Tuesday, McMaster said at a news briefing.

County officials have a meeting scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. today that will include Emergency Management, the Sheriff's Office as well as the Highway Patrol and local municipalities. In such winds, downed trees and power outages are common, and well-built homes can suffer heavy damage, the NHC says.

Hurricane Florence intensified to a Category 4 hurricane on Monday as it barreled towards the US East Coast, where millions of people are bracing for potentially devastating winds and water later this week. The storm is moving west-northwest at 15 miles per hour. And the timing couldn't be more apt: Monday was the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, when storm activity has historically been at its highest. Among the airports commonly mentioned are those in North and SC, as well as Norfolk and Richmond, VA and Savannah, GA. "Please take all necessary precautions", Trump wrote on Twitter.

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Residents farther north in coastal and inland areas in the Delmarva Peninsula, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and NY should also monitor the storm and prepare in case the forecast shifts to the north and east.

"It's scary to all of us".

"Whether price-gouging, looting or break-ins, I want everyone to know that. lawlessness during this period of time will not be tolerated", said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel. She was gathering up important papers and preparing to drive inland to ride out the storm.

The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, near the shore, canceled its upcoming alumni weekend and all classes starting at noon Monday, encouraging its students to leave campus for a safer location. It said about 750 military personnel would be designated to provide support.

"It's on par with the storms we flew a year ago, like Maria and Irma", Kibbey said.

Other military personnel, however, could find themselves directly in harm's way.

The US Navy ordered ships at its major base in Hampton Roads, Virginia, to put to sea, saying "the forecast destructive winds and tidal surge are too great to keep the ships in port".

Virginia's emergency operations chief, Jeffrey Stern, told reporters that residents should brace for "something that no one in Virginia has experienced in their lifetimes".

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan is urging residents to be prepared for "possible catastrophic and life threatening flooding".

Mindful of devastation wrought by a string of deadly USA hurricanes previous year, residents in the Carolinas began the rituals of disaster preparation - boarding up windows and stocking up on groceries, water and gasoline.