(NBC News)– Hurricane Florence strengthened on Sunday as it moved toward the United States, and officials from Florida to Virginia warned residents to prepare for the worst.
The National Hurricane Center said Florence was expected to become a “major hurricane” by Monday and would likely remain “an extremely dangerous” storm through Thursday, when it is forecast to approach the Southeast coast.
Florence’s maximum sustained winds jumped from 75 to 90 mph as it moved west at 7 mph, the hurricane center said.
The Category 1 hurricane remained 560 miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands, which include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the center said.
Speaking to reporters Sunday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Florence could grow into a powerful Category 4 storm by Thursday, striking with winds from 130 mph to 150 mph.
“What that means for us is whatever happens, we’re going to have a lot of rain and a lot of wind,” he said, adding, “Presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of South Carolina.”
McMaster was among several governors to declare a state of emergency over the weekend. Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Ralph Northam of Virginia also declared states of emergency, while Gov. Rick Scott of Florida cautioned residents that the storm’s path could easily turn south.
“While our state is not under any current weather advisories, in Florida, we know how quickly a major storm can shift its path,” he said in a statement. “Now is the time to get prepared to make sure your family is safe.”
The hurricane caused some cruise ships that had been headed to the Caribbean to redirect their routes, including Norwegian Dawn. Instead of motoring to Bermuda from Boston, the 2,340-guest ship headed to Canada with a stop in Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, on Sunday morning.
A Caribbean white sand beach it was not, but passengers appeared to be making the best of it.
“A little disappointing because we didn’t go to Bermuda” is how Susan Lefave put it to the Canadian broadcaster CTV. “But it’s wonderful here.”