(Reuters) – Hurricane Florence strengthened early on Monday with maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour (170 kph) and forecasters warned it could soon become a major hurricane as it churns toward the U.S. East Coast.
The Category 2 hurricane was gaining strength as it traveled over warm Atlantic waters, about 625 miles (1,006 km) southeast of Bermuda at 5 a.m. (0900 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
It is expected to pickup speed, moving between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and could make landfall as a Category 3 or higher on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the NHC said. Major hurricanes have winds of at least 111 mph (179 kph).
Hurricane-force winds could buffet the Carolinas by Wednesday night with landfall likely in South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday, followed by heavy rains that could cause flooding in much of the U.S. Southeast, the NHC said. It said Florence could become a major hurricane “very soon.”
The governors of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina all declared states of emergency.
“Make your plans now,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster urged residents during a Sunday news conference. “Presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of South Carolina.”
Residents as far north as Virginia were warned that Florence could bring a life-threatening coastal storm surge, as well as inland flooding from “prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall,” the NHC said.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urged his state’s residents to get ready, noting the storm was generating swelling waves and dangerous currents. He was due to address the state at 11 a.m. (1500 GMT).
The NHC was also tracking two other hurricanes farther out in the Atlantic.
Isaac strengthened into the fifth hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season on Sunday, the NHC said, and as of early Monday, it was about 1,230 miles east 1,305 miles (1,985 km) east of the Windward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).
Hurricane Helene, was spinning in the Atlantic off West Africa’s Cape Verde islands with 85-mph (140-kph) winds on Monday, but did not appear to pose an immediate threat to land.
NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said historically, 90 percent of fatalities from hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions have been caused by water. Some 27 percent of the deaths have come from rain-driven flooding, sometimes hundreds of miles inland.
As Florence gathered strength far out in the Atlantic, Wall Street was trying to pick winners and losers from any havoc it might cause.
Shares of companies seen benefiting from the storm preparation and repair effort were broadly higher, including generator maker Generac Holdings Inc (GNRC.N), building materials maker Owens Corning (OC.N), and roofing supplier Beacon Roofing Supply Inc (BECN.O), which were up between 4 percent and 7 percent. Retailers Lowe’s Companies Inc (LOW.N) and Home Depot Inc (HD.N) gained nearly 2 percent.
On the downside, several insurers seen vulnerable to potential claims losses slipped, led by a 2.5 percent drop in Allstate Corp (ALL.N) and a 2.3 percent decline in Travelers Companies Inc (TRV.N).
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott