RALEIGH, N.C. — A powerful Hurricane Earl threatened to sideswipe much of the East Coast just ahead of Labor Day, worrying countless vacationers who planned to spend the traditional last week of summer at the beach.
The Category 4 hurricane steamed across the Caribbean with winds of 135 mph on Tuesday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned people along the eastern seaboard to prepare for possible evacuations.
North Carolina officials announced the first evacuation would be Ocracoke Island beginning at 5 a.m. today. Tourists would be ordered to leave the barrier island accessible only by ferries, but those who live there year-round have the option to stay.
Earl was expected to remain over the open ocean before turning north and running parallel to the East Coast, bringing high winds and heavy rain to North Carolina's Outer Banks by late Thursday or early Friday. From there, forecasters said, it could curve away from the coast somewhat as it makes it way north, perhaps hitting Massachusetts' Cape Cod and the Maine shoreline on Friday night and Saturday.
Forecasters said it was too early to tell how close Earl might come to land. But not since Hurricane Bob in 1991 has such a powerful storm had such a large swath of the East Coast in its sights, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.
On Tuesday, gusty winds from Earl's outer fringes whipped palm fronds and whistled through doors in the Turks and Caicos Islands as tied-down boats seesawed on white-crested surf. On Monday, Earl delivered a glancing blow to several small Caribbean islands.