President Obama declared an emergency in one state today as Hurricane Earl headed towards the US east coast with winds at around 145 mph.
Forecasters were trying to pinpoint how close the strongest winds and heaviest surge would get to North Carolina’s fragile chain of barrier islands, and whether the storm would threaten parts of the Northeast.
The President’s declaration authorises the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to co-ordinate all disaster relief efforts in North Carolina.
The North Carolina National Guard is deploying 80 troops to help.
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland had already declared states of emergency as Earl built into a powerful Category 4 storm. The highest storm category is 5 that has winds over 155mph.
“There is still concern that this track, the core of the storm, could shift a little farther to the west and have a very significant impact on the immediate coastline,” National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.
The National Hurricane Centre in Miami issued a tropical storm warning for the coast of Long Island in New York and a hurricane watch was issued for areas of Massachusetts.
Earl’s first encounter with the US mainland should come around midnight local time (0500 BST), as the storm is forecast to pass just off North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras, bringing wind gusts of up to 100 mph.
Early today, North Carolina’s Outer Banks had only light winds and high clouds as the eye of Earl was hundreds of miles south of Cape Hatteras. Those conditions were expected to deteriorate throughout the day.
While thousands of tourists heeded calls to evacuate Hatteras Island, locals familiar with hurricanes vowed to ride out Earl, preparing to spend days stranded from the mainland.
“I worry about not being able to get back here,”’ said Nancy Scarborough, who manages the Hatteras Cabanas. “I’d rather be stuck on this side than that side.”
Along with the 30,000 residents and visitors asked to leave Hatteras Island, 5,000 more tourists were ordered to leave Ocracoke Island, which is only accessible by ferry and plane.
Evacuations continued early Thursday, with residents and visitors leaving a barrier island in Carteret County.
Many people – sailors, tourists and residents alike – were adopting a wait-and-see approach, making simple preparations like stocking up on food or attaching hurricane shutters to their houses.
“Post-Katrina, people are really sensitive to storm preparedness,” said Trace Cooper, mayor of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. “I don’t think we’re going to see too many people sticking around and saying they’re going to have hurricane parties. You see enough pictures of people waiting on their roofs to be rescued and you decide to take precautions.”
Farther up the East Coast, emergency officials urged people to have disaster plans and supplies ready and weighed whether to order evacuations as they watched the latest maps from the hurricane centre.
If Earl moves farther east, Friday might just be modestly wet and blustery for millions in the Northeast. If the storm runs along the western edge of the forecast, dangerous storm surge, heavy rain and hurricane-force winds could hit.