UPDATE: Hurricane Irene was downgraded early Friday morning to a category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph.
(KITTY HAWK, N.C.) -- The exodus from the North Carolina coast has begun and on Thursday night it was a slow motion, bumper to bumper march inland as tens of thousands heeded warnings to get out of the way of Hurricane Irene.
Gas stations are running out of fuel, ATM's are out of cash and one woman was out of a very special night.
"The TV showed the mandatory evacuation and I burst into tears," said Melissa Cook, who was supposed to get married this weekend. "Everything I had planned and dreamed about."
Hurricane Irene's wave of disappointment also affected beach goers in South Carolina. Police closed the beaches to swimming after six swimmers were rescued from rip currents caused by the massive storm.
As Irene -- a category 3 hurricane then with 115 mph winds -- blasted through the Bahamas, the U.S. began bracing for the storm's worst.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, under President Obama's direction, contacted East Coast mayors and governors potentially in Irene's path. Later, she and FEMA director Craig Fugate held a conference call with state, local, and tribal officials on planning for the storm.
"Given the unpredictability of these storms, we are currently planning for several scenarios, including potential impacts to major metro areas and critical infrastructure," Napolitano said in a Department of Homeland Security news release.
Evacuation orders were issued along the coast of North Carolina Thursday in Dare, Currituck and Cateret counties. There are 180,000 people just in Dare County, and another 150,000 people were told to get out of Ocean City, Maryland.
A state of emergency was declared in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg said police are deploying more than 80 boats around the city as well as several helicopters to prepare for emergencies. City hospitals have tested their emergency generators, and the city's airports are stockpiling diapers, cots, blankets, pillow and bottles of water.
Fearing Irene's wrath, Amtrak announced it is canceling all train service south of Washington D.C. for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Irene is traveling at 12 mph, making it a slow moving storm which will allow it to hover over an area, dump rain and batter it with ferocious winds for an expended period. It is expected to slam into the North Carolina coast Saturday afternoon and then churn north along the coast as far as Boston. She is expected to arrive in New York Sunday afternoon.
As the storm clears the Bahamas and continues over the warm water of the Atlantic, its wind speed is expected to strengthen and the size of the storm could increase to a category 4 with wind speeds of at least 131 mph.
Irene is expected to weaken somewhat as it claws its way up the coast, but will likely still be packing winds of 50 to 70 mph when it reaches New York City and Boston. It is expected to dump six to 12 inches of rain on the Jersey shore, Long Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
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