UNCW issues voluntary evacuation for students starting at 12 p.m. Monday ahead of Hurricane Florence

WILMINGTON, N.C. – The University of North Carolina at Wilmington has issued a voluntary evacuation for students starting at 12 p.m. Monday as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast.

The school said it has cancelled all university-sponsored events including athletics and Alumni Weekend, which would have started Friday.

In a voluntary evacuation, students are encouraged, but not required, to leave campus for a safer location.

Classes are officially cancelled, and the grading and attendance policies are suspended, according to the university’s evacuation policies.

“The university will continue monitoring the situation in close collaboration with the National Weather Service and state and local agencies, and will share updates as they develop,” the school said in a statement posted online.

Florence is on track to hit the East Coast of the US this week and currently has maxim sustained winds of 85 mph, according to the National Weather Center's 5 p.m. Sunday update.

The National Hurricane Center reclassified Florence as a hurricane in its 11 a.m. report while also issuing advisories in the Atlantic for two other tropical storms expected to become hurricanes: Isaac and Helene.

Florence was in the Atlantic about 1,500 miles from the coast and 750 miles from Bermuda, moving west at 6 mph, the center said.

The hurricane center said, "All indications are that Florence will be an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane while it moves over the western Atlantic toward the southeastern United States."

Computer models agree Florence is on track to hit the Carolinas.

It would be the first Category 4 hurricane to do so since Hugo in 1989. And it would be the first major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) to hit the East Coast since Jeanne, which struck Florida in 2004.

To become a hurricane, a storm must reach sustained winds of 74 mph. The hurricane center says "catastrophic" Category 4 storms generate sustained winds of at least 130 mph.

Swells generated by Florence are already affecting Bermuda and are beginning to reach portions of the US East Coast, the hurricane center said.

CNN contributed to this report.