HATTERAS, N.C. – Hurricane Irene could hit anywhere from North Carolina to New York this weekend, leaving officials in the path of uncertainty to make a delicate decision. Should they tell tourists to leave during one of the last weeks of the multibillion-dollar summer season?
Most were in a wait-and-see mode, holding out to get every dime before the storm’s path crystallizes. North Carolina’s governor told reporters not to scare people away.
“You will never endanger your tourists, but you also don’t want to over-inflate the sense of urgency about the storm. And so let’s just hang on,” North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said Wednesday. At the same time she warned to “prepare for the worst.”
In the Bahamas, tourists cut their vacations short and caught the last flights out before the airport was closed. Those who remained behind with locals prepared for a rough night of violent winds and a dangerous storm surge that threatened to punish the low-lying chain of islands.
No warnings or watches were out late Wednesday for North Carolina though they are likely today. But on its Outer Banks, some tourists heeded evacuation orders for a tiny barrier island as Irene strengthened to a Category 3 storm, with winds of 120 mph.
Officials said Irene could cause flooding, power outages or worse as far north as Maine, even if the eye of the storm stays offshore. Hurricane-force winds were expected 50 miles from the center of the storm.