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Hurricane Irene heading for North Carolina, Washington, New York (video)

Hurricane Irene weakened to 110 m.p.h. winds, but Irene is expected to strengthen to a Category 3 hurricane again is it reaches North Carolina

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Anticipating severe storm damage in North Carolina, U.S. President Barack Obama declared an emergency on Thursday, authorizing federal aid to support that state's response. The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut also declared emergencies.

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Even if the center of Irene stays offshore as it tracks up the coast, its heavy winds and rain could lash cities like Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York and knock out power, forecasters said.

Irene will be the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Ike pounded Texas in 2008.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the most populous U.S. city was bracing for storm conditions and flooding starting on Sunday.

He urged residents of vulnerable areas to move to safety on Friday because the mass transit system, the nation's biggest with 8 million passengers a day, may have to shut if flooding or high winds endanger its buses, subways and commuter trains.

Many New Yorkers do not have cars, so mass transit could be vital in evacuations.

Long Island, the populous area that extends about 100 miles east into the Atlantic Ocean from New York City, could be hit hard if Irene stays on its current track.

In Washington, Irene forced the postponement of Sunday's dedication ceremony for the new memorial honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Tens of thousands of people, including Obama, had been expected to attend.

Flooding from Irene killed at least one person in Puerto Rico and two in the Dominican Republic. The storm knocked out power in the Bahamian capital Nassau and blocked roadways with fallen trees.

(Reporting by Tom Brown and Manuel Rueda in Miami, Daniel Trotta and Joan Gralla in New York; Laura MacInnis and JoAnne Allen in Washington, Don Pessin in North Carolina; Writing by Philip Barbara; Editing by Christopher Wilson and John O'Callaghan)

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