A million people have been told to evacuate coastal parts of the eastern United States as Hurricane Florence churns towards the country.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for the coasts of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, and states of emergency have been declared there as well as Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Florence is currently around 800 miles from Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 16mph with winds of 130mph. It stretches 340 miles across, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The category four storm is expected to intensify to a category five as it slows down over warm waters.
Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said: “This storm is going to be a direct hit on our coast.
“We are planning for devastation.”
National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham said: “This one really scares me.
“You’re going to get heavy rain, catastrophic life-threatening storm surge and also the winds.”
The worst of the storm is expected to hit the US in the early hours of Friday, with swells as high as 12ft forecast.
Mr Graham said: “The water could overtake some of these barrier islands and keep on going.
“With time, the wind pushes the water into every nook and cranny you can think of.
“All you have to do is look up at your ceiling and think about 12ft of water – that, folks, is extremely life-threatening.”
One of the worst storms in North Carolina was Hazel in 1954, which brought 130mph winds, destroyed 15,000 buildings and killed 19 people. It also devastated neighbouring areas.
Since then, the coastal population has grown by thousands of people.
North Carolina governor Roy Cooper described the storm as “a monster”.
He added: “It’s an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane … the forecast shows Florence stalling over North Carolina, bringing days and days of rain.”
Among the things in Florence’s path are at least five military bases (tens of thousands of troops and their families are evacuating), half a dozen nuclear power plants (power bosses have said they would be shut down about 12 hours before being hit), and numerous pits of industrial waste.
But, despite the concern from meteorologists, US President Donald Trump was confident, saying the federal government is “absolutely, totally prepared”.
Meanwhile, there are two other storms in the vicinity – Isaac and Olivia have become tropical storms, with Isaac heading for the Caribbean and Olivia set to hit Hawaii early on Wednesday.