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Wednesday
Aug242011

Hurricane Irene: Category 3 Sparks Evacuations in North Carolina

Ron Garan/NASA(OCRACOKE ISLAND, N.C.) -- Hurricane Irene strengthened to a category 3 storm, wreaking havoc across the Caribbean and sparking evacuation orders in coastal North Carolina.

Thousands of people in Ocracoke Island, N.C., have been ordered to evacuate as the storm continues hurtling towards the East Coast packing winds up to 115 miles per hour.

The storm is shaping up to be the most powerful hurricane to strike the East Coast of the United States in years.

Craig Fugate, the manager of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), urged those from the Mid-Atlantic region to New England to start preparing now for the possibility of the hurricane's landfall.

"It's going to be close and whether we get a brush or whether we have a landfall, it's too early to say," Fugate said. "Go ahead and make sure you're ready and then if evacuations are required, heed those evacuation orders. The Hurricane Center says this storm is going to grow and strengthen...and it's really something people need to be prepared now for so they can be ready if they have to act."

Irene is moving towards the Bahamas after ripping street signs out of the ground in the Turks and Caicos and destroying buildings in the Dominican Republic.

The hurricane's winds stretch over 400 miles. The Caribbean islands are low and flat which only fuels the strength of the hurricane, meteorologists say. The storm's surge is 7 to 11 feet, meaning that waters are 7 to 11 feet higher in the Caribbean.

Back in North Carolina, the first ferry has left the tiny barrier island of Ocracoke. Tourists were ordered to evacuate Wednesday and some 800 year round island residents were advised to leave by Thursday.

The storm is expected to cause flooding, power outages, or worse as far north as Maine.

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