Irene Churns Toward the East Coast

Hurricane Irene gathered more strength on Thursday after battering the Bahamas, threatening to inflict a direct blow on the Outer Banks of North Carolina on its way to New York and New England. Betsy McKay has the latest on The News Hub.

Hurricane Irene marched north Thursday after battering the Bahamas, threatening to hammer the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Saturday before raking the Eastern seaboard on its way to New York and New England.

Irene, a Category 3 storm packing 115 mile-per-hour winds as of 5 p.m. Thursday, could continue to strengthen, forecasters said. And its projected path hugging the coast could change, they said, bringing the storm further inland.

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"Any further deviation to the left could bring direct impact as far inland as the Washington-Baltimore area," said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, in a conference call with reporters. "The rest of the Eastern seaboard is well within the path of this storm."

Officials in the Bahamas reported power outages, flooding and substantial damage to buildings as the storm moved through. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the storm was about 200 miles east of South Florida.

Irene is expected to lose some force as it interacts with land and encounters wind shear and cooler waters, said Mr. Read. But it could reach the New York area as a Category 2 storm, with winds around 100 mph.

Irene Churns Toward U.S.

Associated Press

A man walked along the waterfront on New Providence Island, Bahamas, Thursday.

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It is expected to dump five to 10 inches of rain throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. Because much of the area is already saturated from downpours earlier this year, residents were warned to expect heavy flooding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing for the storm's aftermath by trucking supplies, including generators, bottled water and tarps, to staging bases in North Carolina, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

In North Carolina, where Gov. Bev Perdue and President Barack Obama each declared states of emergency, officials began ordering the evacuation of areas including the Outer Banks, a long, narrow series of barrier islands where the population swells with tourists in the summer, drawn by the beaches and limited commercialization.

State and local emergency-management agencies are responding to the potential disaster at a time when their funding has been cut significantly, as have budgets for state troopers and other departments that are summoned to help during a disaster. North Carolina's emergency-management budget is $3.04 million this year, a 38% decrease from $4.92 million three years ago.

But officials say they have adapted their procedures to accommodate the cuts. They can also count on matching federal dollars should a disaster occur.

Tourists steadily departed the Outer Banks on Thursday, posting parting shots of the sunny beach on their Facebook pages. At Hatteras Island Pet Resort, owner Andrea Brothers said goodbye to the 12 animals she had been caring for this week as their tourist owners left, and she began prepping the kennels to shelter animals after the storm, in case the county shelter needs space on the island.

TheVirginian-Pilot/Associated Press

Crew members load the USS Mason Thursday in Norfolk, Va., as it prepared to head to sea to ride out Irene.

Associated Press

Kiel Murphy, left, helps his father, Bill Brightbill, board up Surfside Casuals in Nags Head, N.C.


Ms. Brothers bought a generator and stocked up on Gatorade, cheese sticks and pet food, in preparation for what could be a long weekend at her home in Avon on Hatteras Island.

Locals are prepping for the storm to come up the Intracoastal Waterway, potentially flooding the island and blocking access to bridges to the mainland.

"We're a little bit nervous, to be honest," she said. "We fully expect to have roads out for some time."

In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell also declared a state of emergency and the Navy's Second Fleet sent warships based in Norfolk out to sea, where they can better weather the storm.

Given the possibility that Irene could strike the nation's capital, federal officials postponed the Sunday dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the National Mall.

Mr. Obama was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the event after returning Saturday from vacation on Martha's Vineyard. The president currently has no plans to cut short his vacation.

New Jersey and New York both declared states of emergency Thursday. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie warned residents and tourists to stay away from the shore this weekend.

Long Beach Island, N.J., a collection of municipalities on a barrier island about two hours south of New York City, issued a voluntary evacuation order Thursday afternoon. The order becomes mandatory Friday morning.

In New York City, the mass-transit system could shut down for much of the weekend if Hurricane Irene arrives as is currently predicted, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder said Thursday evening.

The transit agency, which runs the city's subways, buses and several commuter trains, can't guarantee the safety of riders and employees if sustained winds reach above 39 miles per hour, Mr. Walder said. Even a weakened Irene would bring winds in excess of that speed, making it likely that the MTA will start shutting down service Saturday morning. There could be lingering delays and service outages into Monday's morning rush hour.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg—whose credibility took a hit with his administration's sluggish response to a blizzard in December—traveled to a flood-prone area in Queens on Thursday to deliver a comprehensive briefing on the city's hurricane plans.

With Hurricane Irene on course to hit New York, Mayor Bloomberg talks about the city's emergency preparations, including a possible shutdown of the transit system. Image courtesy of Getty images.

The mayor said he could decide as early as Friday night whether to evacuate New Yorkers in low-lying areas, like Coney Island in Brooklyn. "We don't have enough information yet to make that call," he said.

Mr. Bloomberg said the latest reports he had seen showed Irene reaching the New York area on Sunday and possibly hitting Long Island as a Category 2 storm. New York City officials said they expected the city to be hit with tropical-storm conditions, which include heavy rain and winds of 39 mph to 73 mph.

—Carol E. Lee, Nathan Hodge, Siobhan Hughes and Andrew Grossman contributed to this article.

Write to Valerie Bauerlein at and Michael Howard Saul at and Arian Campo-Flores at

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