The governors of North and SC and Virginia have declared states of emergency to give them time to prepare, and the U.S. Navy said ships in Virginia's Hampton Roads area would leave port for their own safety.
Another storm, Tropical Storm Isaac spinning farther out in the Atlantic, could also become a hurricane later on Sunday as it gains strength, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said in an advisory on Sunday. SC emergency management officials said they were "preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster".
Why has North Carolina declared STATE OF EMERGENCY?
Meanwhile, Hurricane Isaac is expected to weaken as it approaches the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, and then possibly fall apart.
The US Navy ordered ships at its major base in Hampton Roads, Virginia, to put to sea, saying "the forecasted destructive winds and tidal surge are too great to keep the ships in port". The hurricane center says "catastrophic" Category 4 storms generate sustained winds of at least 130 miles per hour.
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Heavy rain in the Washington area over the weekend has already led to flooding in historic Alexandria, Virginia, local media reported, and the National Weather Service issued a flood watch for part of the Potomac River. The storm is expected to approach the southeast U.S. Coast on Thursday.
This map shows the projected path of Hurricane Florence on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018.
As of 5 p.m., Sunday, the storm was 720 miles souteast of Bermuda and moving west.
Isaac is forecast to become a hurricane by Sunday evening or Monday.
As a result of the ominous storm, states across the East Coast are bracing for landfall with officials in the Carolinas and the Virginias making preparations.
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Unsafe swells generated by Florence affected Bermuda and have begun to reach parts of the Eastern Seaboard. Other major hurricanes that have made landfall on North Carolina have come up from the south toward the north and made landfall that way.
SC and Virginia declared states of emergencies to give residents time to make preparations for the severe weather.
Storm-force winds could begin buffeting the Carolina coast by Wednesday night, forecasters said.
At the moment, Florence is moving west across the Atlantic with wind speeds of around 65 miles per hour. It is expected to accelerate during the next 36 hours and head into the eastern Caribbean Sea by Thursday.
Helene - 305 miles west of the Cape Verde islands off the African coast - had winds up to 85 miles per hour, and was expected to continue moving west-northwest for another couple of days, the NHC said in its 0900 GMT bulletin.
Florence to become major hurricane by Monday
The National Weather Service has issued a warning saying Mangkhut will bring tropical storm force winds between 65 and 100 knots. Large swells generated by Florence are already affecting Bermuda and portions of the East Coast and will continue this week.