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Thursday, August 25, 2011

North Carolina & East Coast Braces For Irene's Powerful Punch! Extreme Flooding Expected!

Irene's flooding 'could be a hundred-year event'

Four governors declared states of emergency Thursday as Hurricane Irene threatened to wreak havoc along the United States' Eastern Seaboard.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley declared emergencies for their states, while North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue declared a state of emergency in counties east of Interstate 95. The emergency declarations allow states to free funds and prepare resources that may be needed.

If Irene continues along its current track, "from a flooding perspective, this could be a hundred-year event," Christie said. He encouraged voluntary evacuations to begin immediately. "Anybody who is on a barrier island should go," he said, adding that on Friday people along the beaches should start thinking about moving to higher ground.

Christie said it was too soon to know whether there will be mandatory evacuations.

In parts of North Carolina, mandatory evacuations were under way Thursday.

The military moved more than two dozen ships out to sea ahead of the storm.

As of 2 p.m. ET, the Category 3 storm was pounding the Bahamas, with its eye over Abaco Island, the National Hurricane Center said.

"The core of the hurricane will continue to move over the northwestern Bahamas today, and pass well offshore of the east coast of central and north Florida tonight and early Friday. The hurricane is forecast to approach the coast of North Carolina on Saturday," the center's advisory said.

Maximum sustained winds were at 115 mph as the storm worked its way northwest.

"I didn't really want to take my chances," said Janeen Wall, who left her vacation spot in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, to make it back to Richmond, Virginia. "Also, if I waited for an evacuation order, I would have to share the road with more than a few thousand other folks trying to leave at the same time."

A mandatory evacuation order was in effect for residents and visitors in Hyde County, North Carolina, which includes Ocracoke Island, reachable only by boat or private plane, on the Outer Banks.

Ocracoke resident Farris O'Neal, 40, told CNN that for the first time he may head for the mainland instead of sticking out the storm. "It's different this time," he said. Since the last big storm, he has gotten married and had two children. "My wife is sick and so's the baby."

Nearby Dare County, which includes Manteo, Nags Head, Duck and historic Kitty Hawk, had an evacuation order for tourists only.

Carteret County also issued a mandatory evacuation order for visitors in part of the county. On Friday, there will be a mandatory evacuation for all residents of Bogue Banks, said county spokesman Rodney Cates.

Ocean City, Maryland, Mayor Richard Meeham announced a mandatory evacuation beginning at midnight, CNN affiliate WUSA reported.

The cone of uncertainty -- the area that could be impacted by Irene depending on what path it follows over the next several days -- includes much of the U.S. northeast. Even if the hurricane does not make landfall, the heavy rains could trigger flooding in some areas.

"The biggest concern is getting people to pay attention and make sure they are ready," Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said in an interview with CNN. He said residents should have the necessary supplies and an evacuation plan ready.

The National Hurricane Center has said Irene could strengthen to Category 4 status.

The storm could weaken as it works its way up the U.S. East Coast in the coming days. "As it gets closer to the northeast, it will run into the cooler Labrador Current, and that -- along with some more wind shear -- should allow Irene to lose some strength," said HLN meteorologist Bob Van Dillen.

The U.S. Navy is sending 27 ships based in Norfolk, Virginia, out to sea to ride out Irene, a senior Navy official told CNN. An aircraft carrier is among them. Another 28 ships will seek more sheltered areas.

Three submarines were heading out to sea, as well.

CNN's Larry Shaughnessy, on board the USS WASP, could see several warships ahead and others behind as they steadily worked their way out into the Atlantic. There are 1,500 personnel on board the WASP -- 1,000 sailors and 500 Marines. Things were orderly on the ship, Shaughnessy said.

While the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier was heading out, three others in Norfolk were in various states of maintenance and could not safely be put out to sea.

Military officials planned to make a decision Thursday about moving aircraft in the area, as well.

While Florida is not expected to get the worst of Irene, the state was feeling the storm's impact Thursday, said CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras.

"Rough surf, rip currents, and erosion on Atlantic beaches and wind advisories with gusts to 40 mph expected," Jeras tweeted.

In the Bahamas, which was getting the brunt of Irene on Thursday, officials reported power outages, impassable roads, and flooding in some spots.

On the island of Mayaguana, several churches reported damage, including losing parts of their roofs, the National Emergency Management Agency said. Dozens of homes were damaged, as well.

On Crooked Island, a high school's roof was blown off. Part of one church, St. John's Baptist, collapsed.

On Acklins Island, 90% of the settlement Lovely Bay was destroyed, and several homes were blown away, NEMA said.

A police station's roof was blown off on North Cat Island, along with other damage, Bahamas Information Services said.

South Carolina state officials have decided not to order evacuations but urged boaters and swimmers to stay out of the water.

Storm preparations were less intense along the Virginia coastline and the Eastern Shores of Maryland -- the area swamped by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

One resident was hopeful that Irene would pass close by.

"Dear Irene, please bring rain. Thank you," read a handwritten sign on a mailbox in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, region, where residents are being affected by smoke from a stubborn wildfire that has been burning in historic Dismal Swamp.

"Hurricane Irene may be the only way to get enough rainfall to assist the firefighters and put this relentless fire out," said Penelope Penn.

In Crisfield, Maryland, Ginger Wilson said her family will stay put as Irene approaches this weekend.

"We'll probably have some extra water, get some canned vegetables and foods, and make sure the pantry is full," she told CNN affiliate WBOC-TV. "Just have any extra supplies -- batteries, radios, anything that would be helpful."

The last major hurricane to strike the United States was Wilma in 2005, which was a Category 3 at landfall, Jeras said.

Hurricane Katrina, earlier the same year, was also a Category 3 at landfall. The most recent hurricane to make landfall in the United States was Ike in 2008, which hit near Galveston, Texas, as a Category 2.

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Sources: CNN, Huffington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, WCNC, Youtube, Google Maps

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