In hurricane Irene bull's eye, coastal North Carolina braces
The track for hurricane Irene has the potential Category 3 storm crashing into the US near Beaufort, N.C., where officials are pleading with residents to evacuate.
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“We're the center of the bull's eye,” says Beaufort Fire Marshall Ben Barnett.
Expected to impact nearly 70 million Americans along the country's most populated stretch – from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to New England – the hurricane's likely first strike on the Southern Outer Banks, known as the Crystal Coast, will be an indicator of the extent of potential damages in more populated areas to the north.
IN PICTURES: Hurricane Irene
If current tracks hold, some damage could be catastrophic, with damages in the billions of dollars.
Governors along the Atlantic Coast began limited, and some mandatory, evacuations on Friday for residents of low-lying areas, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg saying he will decide Friday whether to order evacuations for Coney Island.
Ocean City, Md., is under a mandatory evacuation order, as is Cape May, N.J. Parts of Virginia Beach are under mandatory evacuation orders as the US Second Fleet continued to move its ships from Norfolk into the open Atlantic.
In North Carolina, coastal roads began clogging Friday morning as visitors and locals continued to leave the Outer Banks before the last ferry Friday night.
After lashing the Bahamas, Irene moved at a leisurely 15 miles per hour through warm Atlantic waters, weakening slightly to a Category 2 storm and then strengthening again Friday morning, flirting with a Category 4 designation, meaning sustained winds of more than 140 miles per hour.
The eye of the storm is currently 400 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., moving on a northerly track.