Hurricane Florence: US airlines begin waiving change fees

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"Life-threatening" hurricane and storm surges watches have been issued for huge swathes of the USA southeastern coast as Hurricane Florence barrels across the Atlantic Ocean.

Carrying winds of up to 140 miles per hour (220 kph) as a Category 4 storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to approach Category 5 status on Tuesday as it slows and strengthens off North and SC.

The eye of the storm is due to meet land near the border between North Carolina and SC on Saturday, according to the latest information from the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Cooper and his counterparts in neighboring SC and Virginia ordered about 1 million people to evacuate coastal homes, including along the Outer Banks barrier islands that protect North Carolina's shore.

A mandatory evacuation order takes effect Tuesday at noon in eight counties along South Carolina's 187-mile coastline.

In South Carolina, traffic in all lanes of Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia has been directed away from the coast, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said.

Mandatory evacuations began to go into effect for coastal areas of North Carolina, especially the Outer Banks, on Monday, as the coast braced for heavy rains, storm surge and the potential for tornadoes.

The most recent Category 4 storm to hit the US was Hurricane Maria a year ago, which plowed into eastern Puerto Rico with winds of 155 miles per hour. All of those states have declared a state of emergency. In contrast to the hurricane center's official projection, a highly regarded European model had the storm turning southward off the North Carolina coast and coming ashore near the Georgia-South Carolina line. Early on Monday Isaac, which the NHC called a small hurricane, was about 1,900km east of the Windward Islands - a region still recovering from 2017's powerful Hurricane Maria - with maximum sustained winds near 120km/h.

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For many, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge.

Helene, meanwhile, was still in the Atlantic's spawning ground for hurricanes off the coast of Africa, swirling with 105 mph (165 kmh) winds and forecast to become a major hurricane, about 375 miles (600 kilometers) west of the Cape Verde islands.

During a press conference Monday morning, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said his state is "in the bull's-eye" of the storm.

Forecasters are also tracking several other hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

While evacuation orders are issued by states as a protective action in disaster events such as hurricanes and wildfires, they are sometimes ignored by people - whether it's because they didn't believe the warnings, didn't have the financial means or refused to abandon friends, family or pets. "So, for those not in emergency critical scenarios, it is asked that they evacuate", Bluffton Township Fire District spokesman Lee Levesque said.

"This storm is strong and it's getting stronger", Cooper said.

Jones urged Chatham County residents to continue to monitor Florence and be generally prepared for hurricanes with a hurricane kit, shelter-in-place supplies and an evacuation plan.

He wrote: "My people just informed me that this is one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast in many years".