As Irene threatens U.S., East Coast gets ready

A rider moves through a flooded neighborhood in Nagua on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic after Hurricane Irene passed Tuesday. Hundreds took shelter in churches and schools.

Associated Press

A rider moves through a flooded neighborhood in Nagua on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic after Hurricane Irene passed Tuesday. Hundreds took shelter in churches and schools.

Along the East Coast on Tuesday, people stocked up on food, boarded windows and gassed up their cars as Hurricane Irene threatened to become the most powerful storm to hit the coast in seven years.

From Florida to Maine, residents were told to brace for flash flooding and power outages from Irene, the first major storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Though Irene was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on Tuesday with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, it was likely to strengthen into a Category 4 monster by the time it crosses warm water and makes a landfall in the United States this weekend, most likely hitting North Carolina, forecasters warned.

The latest developments:

East of Florida

The hurricane's projected path has gradually shifted farther east. Forecasters initially expected the storm to hit Florida. Irene was nudged away from its 10-mph path toward the state by weakness in a high-pressure system parked over the southeastern United States, forecasters said. If that system changes, the storm could still graze Florida's coast, they said.

In the Caribbean

In Puerto Rico, more than a million people were without power after Irene slashed across the nation, and a woman died trying to cross a swollen river in her car. President Barack Obama has declared an emergency there. Hundreds were displaced by flooding in the Dominican Republic, forced to take shelter in schools and churches. The Bahamas will bear the brunt of the storm over the next several days, forecasters said.

In North Carolina

The mouth of the storm's tracking cone took dead aim at North Carolina. "I'm not panicking, but I was born and raised here," said Peggy Temple of Wrightsville Beach, N.C. She bought sandbags to protect her first-floor property from flooding. Bob Eure, who works at the Island Tackle & Hardware in Carolina Beach, said people streamed in all day, buying flashlights and five-gallon gas cans to fill with water. Others bought fishing tackle. "With the water stirred up, the fish will bite better," he said.

On the East Coast

Irene could crawl up the coast Sunday toward the Northeast region, where residents aren't accustomed to such storms. Officials dusted off evacuation plans and readied for the first hurricane strike on the United States in three years. It has been seven years since a major hurricane, considered a Category 3 with winds of at least 111 mph, hit the East Coast. Hurricane Jeanne came ashore on Florida's east coast in 2004. "We need to remind people, hurricanes are not just a Southern thing. This could be the mid Atlantic and the northeast coast" all the way to Maine, Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said during a conference call with reporters.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

As Irene threatens U.S., East Coast gets ready 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 11:34pm]

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