Hurricane Earl Strengthens, Bears Down on North Carolina

Hurricane Earl strengthened today, bearing down on North Carolina with winds of 145 miles (230 kilometers) per hour, prompting school closures, coastal evacuations and emergency declarations.

Dare, Currituck and Hyde Counties in North Carolina said their schools will close today. Evacuations were ordered for Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands in the Outer Banks yesterday. President Barack Obama and Governor Bev Perdue both declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, and in neighboring Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell also declared one.

Hurricane-force winds are forecast to hit North Carolina tonight as Earl passes near the Outer Banks before scraping Cape Cod and striking Nova Scotia at the weekend. Hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings stretch from North Carolina to Nova Scotia in Canada. Meterologists warned that New York City may be hit by winds of at least 39 mph.

“On the track that we’re forecasting, there will be a significant impact to the Outer Banks,” Todd Kimberlain, a hurricane specialist at the center, said today in a telephone interview. “They have less than 24 hours before the arrival of hurricane conditions. There isn’t a whole lot more time, and conditions are going to deteriorate throughout the day.”

Earl was 355 miles south of Cape Hatteras moving north- northwest at 18 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory shortly before 8 a.m. Miami time. The storm’s winds, already the strongest of the Atlantic season, accelerated from 140 mph yesterday.

Long Island, Manhattan

Hurricane watches were issued today in Massachusetts for north of Sagamore Beach to Plymouth and west of Woods Hole to Westport. A tropical storm warning was issued for a portion of New York’s Long Island while Manhattan was under a tropical storm watch, an indication that winds of at least 39 mph are possible within two days.

A hurricane warning, meaning winds of at least 74 mph are expected, is in effect from Bogue Inlet, North Carolina, to the Virginia state line, according to the center. The center’s forecast map shows Earl tracking northeast after brushing North Carolina, coming close to New England late tomorrow.

“It wouldn’t take much of a deviation for the core of the hurricane to be very close to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and maybe even Cape Cod,” Kimberlain said.

The hurricane is expected to pass about 50 miles from Nantucket, according to the National Weather Service website.

Flight Tickets

Carriers including Continental Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and US Airways Group Inc. have issued travel waivers to allow passengers to change their tickets without penalty.

In North Carolina, evacuations began at Ocracoke Island yesterday, with ferries traveling from Hatteras Village, Cedar Island and Swan Quarter to pick up vacationers.

Obama’s emergency declaration extends to 18 counties and allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to mobilize rescue and cleanup equipment and provide federal aid, according to a statement e-mailed today by FEMA.

About 1.8 million people in Virginia and North Carolina may be affected by hurricane- or tropical storm-force winds ahead of the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Earl may come ashore near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, about 185 miles west of Halifax, on the morning of Sept. 4, the tracking map of the Canadian Hurricane Centre showed. Yarmouth, with about 7,200 residents, is at the center of Canada’s lobster fishing grounds.

Further out to sea, Bermuda issued a tropical storm watch as Tropical Storm Fiona, with 50 mph winds, headed toward the islands. Fiona was 610 miles south of Bermuda, moving northwest at 17 mph, the Hurricane Center said before 8 a.m. Miami time.

Behind Fiona, Gaston was about 965 miles west of the Cape Verde islands moving west at 9 mph, the center said at 5 a.m. Miami time. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

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