Ocracoke Island evacuations ahead of Hurricane Irene.
Tourists on 16-mile-long Ocracoke Island off the coast of North Carolina have been evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irene.
Residents were asked to leave their homes Thursday morning as Hurricane Irene strengthened to a major Category 3 storm over the Bahamas with the East Coast in its sights. North Carolina Governor, Beverly Perdue said today at a news conference.
“It’s a standard precaution.”
“We want folks [in eastern North Carolina] to take this storm seriously and to get prepared.”
Perdue also urged coastal residents to be prepared and fill up their gas tanks, collect their prescription drugs and have cash in case the region is without power or other basics. Hurricane kits also should include water, canned food and other supplies.
However, Governor Perdue tried not to discourage tourists from visiting North Carolina’s coast, saying at this point the state’s southern beaches would avoid the brunt of the storm and predicted Irene would pass the state by Sunday morning – leaving intact the week leading up to the Labor Day holiday.
Governor defended comments she made Tuesday asking the media not to scare away tourists and urging tourists to keep visiting North Carolina.
“You will never endanger your tourists, but you also don’t want to overinflate the sense of urgency about the storm. And so let’s just hang on,” she said.
The today’s Ocracoke Island evacuation served as a “test” to see whether people would leave when faced with the possibility of a hurricane, according to the Associated Press.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation said in a tweet that ferries leaving the barrier island, part of the popular Outer Banks, are only half-full and traffic is moderate. They expect traffic to increase as the day goes on.
Hurricane Irene has passed through Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, and is headed for the East Coast, the Capital Weather Gang reports.
Hurricane current trajectory suggests that it will hit North Carolina directly, but nothing is certain. Should Irene stay on its current path, the National Hurricane Center’s forecast predicts that it will make landfall Saturday.
In Ocracoke Island cars were lined up at gas pumps to fill tanks before leaving ahead of Irene, which had winds near 120 mph (193 kph) as of Wednesday afternoon.
Irene is expected to get stronger over warm ocean waters and could become a Category 4 storm with winds of at least 131 mph (211 km/h) by Thursday.
As Irene churned in the Caribbean, tourists scurried from hotels in the Bahamian capital of Nassau to catch flights off the island before the airport’s expected afternoon closure.
The first ferry to leave Ocracoke Island in North Carolina arrived just before 5:30 a.m. in nearby Hatteras with around a dozen cars on board.
The 16-mile-long barrier island is accessible only by boats that can carry no more than 50 cars at a time.
Ocracoke Island is home to about 800 year-round residents and a tourist population that swells into the thousands when vacationers rent rooms and cottages.
It wasn’t clear how many people on the first arriving ferry Wednesday morning were tourists, but the first two cars to drive off had New York and New Jersey plates.
State workers questioned people who tried taking the ferry to the island and turned a few cars around. In addition to the ferry line to Hatteras, there were two other ferry lines that went to and from the island.
Ocracoke is part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a roughly 200-mile stretch of fragile barrier islands off the state’s coast. Pristine beaches and wild mustangs attract thousands of tourists each year. Aside from Ocracoke, the other islands are accessible by bridges to the mainland and ferries. The limited access can make the evacuation particularly tense. Officials in counties covering the rest of the Outer Banks were to decide later Wednesday or Thursday whether to evacuate.
All the barrier islands have the geographic weakness of jutting out into the Atlantic like the side-view mirror of a car, a location that’s frequently been in the path of destructive storms over the decades. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd made landfall as a Category 2 storm and caused a storm surge that wiped out scores of houses and other properties on the Outer Banks.
It’s been more than seven years since a major hurricane, considered a Category 3 with winds of at least 111 mph (179 km/h), hit the East Coast. Hurricane Jeanne came ashore on Florida’s east coast in 2004.
Wednesday, at 2 p.m. EDT, Irene was centered about 250 miles (402 km) southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest near 12 mph (19 km/h).
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