The storm, about 750 miles southeast of Bermuda, is projected to make landfall early Friday morning somewhere in the Carolinas, according to National Hurricane Center forecasts. After passing the Cabo Verde Islands the system was not expected to pose a direct threat to land for at least several days. Gas stations and ATMs may be closed after a hurricane.
Forecasters said Tuesday that updated intensity forecasts had Florence strengthening to near Category 5 status over the next 24 to 36 hours.
Hurricane Florence is aiming for a region of the U.S. East Coast that is especially vulnerable to storm surge and flooding from heavy rains.
"Florence is expected to become a hurricane tonight and rapid intensification is likely to begin on Sunday".
National Guard soldiers are being mobilized in the affected states.
North Carolina crews were getting bulldozers and chain saws ready.
"It's not just the coast", Graham said.
"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", South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said. "We don't want to risk one SC life".
Schools and county offices in 26 of the state's 46 counties will be closed starting Tuesday. "Everyone in Virginia needs to prepare", he said. "But this is a serious storm and it does warrant our attention".
Residents of coastal areas boarded up homes and packed their bags as they braced for Florence's wrath. "We want people to heed the warnings that we are putting out".
The tropics were slow to wake up this year, but they have certainly come to life in a big way in over the last week.
In Charleston, South Carolina, the Coburg Dairy Cow landmark was removed for safekeeping from its perch atop a sign on Highway 17 on Monday, according to CNN affiliate WCIV.
The Miami-based centre defines a major hurricane as one with a wind speed greater than 177 km/h.
The hurricane center's description of a Category 4 hurricane begins with "catastrophic damage will occur". By 11 a.m. Monday, Florence became a major hurricane, with top sustained winds of 115 miles per hour.
The price gouging law that protects consumers from scammers is also now in effect after Cooper's state of emergency declaration.
An evacuation order from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam applies to about 245,000 people, including parts of the Hampton Roads area and Eastern Shore.
"State emergency management, transportation, health experts and others are making sure North Carolina is prepared for the storm, and I urge the public to review your emergency plans and gather your supplies now", the release quoted Cooper. "Action today can avoid losses due to Florence".
Meanwhile, two other tropical storms have formed in the Atlantic Basin.
Isaac, previously a tropical storm, strengthened into the fifth hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season on Sunday, the NHC said.