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Evacuations begin as Hurricane Irene tracks north

Hurricane Irene tracked northwards as it neared the U.S. east coast Thursday, with governors in Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina declaring states of emergency, and mandatory evacuations taking effect in some coastal areas along the storm’s expected path.

In Ocean City, Maryland, mandatory evacuations were ordered beginning at midnight, while in parts of North Carolina, including Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks, evacuations of residents and tourists were already underway Thursday.

The state of emergency declarations allow states to free funds and prepare resources that may be needed in relief operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, advised residents along the coast to plan an evacuation route and have supplies ready.

The exact path of Hurricane Irene remains unpredictable. Some residents of the eastern seaboard, keeping a nervous eye on storm trackers and weather forecasts, have stockpiled food and water, and bought generators in preparation for expected power outages.

More Hurricane Irene news from GlobalPost: Earthquake no match for Martha’s Vineyard, but Hurricane Irene?

As of Thursday afternoon, the eye of the Category 3 storm was over Abaco Island in the Bahamas, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. Maximum sustained winds were at 115 mph, and the hurricane could yet strengthen to Category 4 status.

“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 NHC’s advisory said.

If Irene continues along its current northerly track, toward areas that do not normally experience hurricane weather, “from a flooding perspective, this could be a hundred-year event,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told CNN.

Christie encouraged voluntary evacuations to begin immediately, especially for anyone on a barrier island or a beach. 

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. 

President Barack Obama is vacationing with his family on Martha’s Vineyard in the storm’s potential path, and received an update on the hurricane Thursday morning, the Washington Post says.

The U.S. military moved more than two dozen ships out to sea in preparation for the storm.

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