RALEIGH, N.C. – A powerful Hurricane Earl threatened to sideswipe much of the East Coast just ahead of Labor Day, worrying countless vacationers who planned to spend the traditional last week of summer at the beach.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned people along the Eastern Seaboard to prepare for possible evacuations and islanders in the Turks and Caicos hunkered down in their homes Tuesday as the Category 4 hurricane steamed across the Caribbean with winds of 135 mph late Tuesday.
North Carolina officials announced the first evacuation would be Ocracoke Island beginning at 5 a.m. today. Tourists would be ordered to leave the barrier island accessible only by ferries, but those who live there year-round have the option to stay.
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, though hurricane watches were out from Surf City, N.C., to the Virginia border. 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.
On Monday, Earl delivered a glancing blow to several small Caribbean islands, tearing roofs off homes and knocking out electricity to people in Anguilla, Antigua and St. Maarten. In Puerto Rico, nearly 187,000 people were without power and 60,000 without water.