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Hurricane Earl path stretches from North Carolina to Boston Harbor

Hurricane Earl path prompts tropical-storm or hurricane warnings from North Carolina to Hull, Mass. Earl, packing 140 m.p.h. winds, is slated to brush Cape Hatteras overnight.

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Essentially, the existing eye vanishes after being surrounded by another wall of rainclouds. This outer wall becomes a new eye, with a larger diameter. That has the effect of pushing tropical-storm and hurricane-force winds further toward the storm's edges than they had been.

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Thus, FEMA's Mr. Fugate urges, "don't focus on the skinny black line" on federal storm-tracking maps. "This is not a point on a map."

Last night, even though Earl had yet to reach North Carolina, President Obama declared a federal state of emergency for the state.

FEMA officials say they are staging relief supplies at Fort Bragg on Thursday. In addition, they have started to ramp up activities in other states along Earl's path.

In New England, officials are trying to beef up search-and-rescue teams and debris-clearing field crews, as well as to pre-position emergency generators. Trees in full foliage, heavy rain, and high winds are a recipe for widespread power failures as limbs or uprooted trees fall across overhead power lines.

Earl is projected to brush Cape Hatteras overnight.

Massachusetts' southeastern coast, which include Cape Cod as well as the popular resort islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, juts like a defiant jaw into Earl's path. If the forecast track holds up perfectly, which it seldom does, the western portion of Earl's eye could brush Nantucket overnight Friday night as the storm weakens and heads across the Gulf of Maine and into the Bay of Fundy as a hurricane Saturday morning.

Earl is the Atlantic hurricane season's second major hurricane. Forecasters also are watching tropical storm Fiona, to Earl's east, tropical depression Gaston, which could be a hurricane headed for the Caribbean by Monday, and another patch of thunderstorms heading into the Atlantic from off the western African coast. Forecasters say this cluster of storms has a 10 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours.

[Editor's note: The original photo caption misidentified the names of the people in the photo.]