Raleigh: Tourists on a North Carolina vacation destination island were ordered to board the ferries and head for the mainland Wednesday and more evacuations could be on the way as powerful Hurricane Earl threatened to sideswipe the East Coast.
Hyde County emergency officials said the evacuation of Ocracoke Island starts at 5 a.m. for about 5,000 visitors. The 800 or so year-round residents don`t have to heed it, but Emergency Services Director Lindsey Mooney said officials hope they`ll follow tourists on the 2 1/2 hour trip to shore.
"I don`t remember the last time there was a mandatory evacuation order for the island," Hyde County Commissioner Kenneth Collier said.
More evacuations along the Eastern Seaboard could follow, depending on the path taken by the Category 4 storm, which was whipping across the Caribbean with winds of 135 mph.
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 cautioned that it was still 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.
"A slight shift of that track to the west is going to impact a great deal of real estate with potential hurricane-force winds," Feltgen said.
Even if Earl stays well offshore, it will kick up rough surf and dangerous rip currents up and down the coast through the Labor Day weekend, a prime time for beach vacations, forecasters said. Virginia`s governor on Wednesday planned to declare an emergency, a preliminary step needed to muster emergency personnel should Earl hit the state.
The approaching storm troubled many East Coast beach towns that had hoped to capitalize on the BP oil spill and draw visitors who normally vacation on the Gulf Coast.