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Irene Threat to East Coast Spurs Evacuations as Emergency Crews Stand By

Colleen Horodnik is going “to run ahead of the storm” by leaving a Bogue Sound vacation home in North Carolina a day early, making way for Hurricane Irene.

“We’re going to close up the house, batten down the hatches and head home” to West Milford, New Jersey, said Horodnik, reading a book as the sun set and her husband, Walter, fished from a pier in the beach town of Emerald Isle. “It could be really bad.”

Not all coastal visitors are leaving by choice. Hyde and Dare counties have ordered tourists to evacuate.

Irene, a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles (193 kilometers) an hour, may be the first major hurricane to hit the U.S. East Coast since Wilma struck Florida in 2005. Irene may make landfall at Cape Hatteras on Aug. 27, then weaken, aides to Governor Beverly Perdue said yesterday in a statement. It may strengthen today to Category 4, with 135 mile-an-hour winds, the National Hurricane Center said.

“It’s a big storm,” Perdue told reporters at a briefing in Raleigh yesterday. “We must all prepare for the worst.”

That message was echoed along the length of the East Coast, where governors and public-safety officials advised shoreline residents to prepare for a blow. The governors of New York and Connecticut ordered agencies to make ready for the storm, which may reach the Northeast Aug. 28. In Rhode Island, officials plan to activate a 24-hour operations center, said Denis Riel, a spokesman for the Emergency Management Agency.

Ready to Go

The U.S. Navy yesterday ordered all its ships in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, which includes Norfolk and Newport News, to prepare to get under way within 24 hours as a precaution, according to a statement. A decision on whether to order the ships to sea will be made based on updated forecasts.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency set up an “incident support base” for North Carolina at the Fort Bragg army base and has sent supplies including generators, water, food and baby formula, Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters on a conference call. The state’s emergency-response center also will stay open around the clock beginning today.

Hyde County, which includes Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks and has about 6,000 residents, evacuated visitors yesterday and will begin moving out residents today, Jeff Hibbard, deputy director of emergency services, said by telephone. To the south, Dare County has ordered vacationers to leave by 8:00 a.m. today.

Evacuation Considered

Currituck County, which borders Virginia, also may order an evacuation, said Mary Beth Newns, director of emergency management.

Residents of Atlantic Beach, near Emerald Isle, were buying supplies including flashlights and tarps at the Ace Hardware store, owner Phillip Helms said.

“We haven’t seen any panic buying yet, but obviously a lot can happen between now and the next 24 hours,” Helms said yesterday by telephone. “People have just kind of learned to be on edge, be ready, but just kind of watch it until it gets closer.”

At home-improvement chains Lowe’s Cos. and Home Depot Inc. (HD), consumers are snapping up plywood, bottled water, batteries and generators. Demand for such “pre-strike” items, which earlier this week was focused in South Florida, was strongest from Virginia Beach to Rhode Island yesterday, said Atlanta-based Home Depot’s Russ Householder.

Stocking Up

Lowe’s has sent more than 200 truckloads of supplies to stores in areas threatened by Irene, said Karen Cobb, a spokeswoman for the Mooresville, North Carolina-based retailer.

Martin Franks wasn’t taking chances and bought three generators from a Lowe’s in Knightdale, North Carolina.

“This is just in case,” said the U.S. Justice Department employee, who said he was preparing to keep his office functioning no matter what the weather. “If they call a state of emergency, we’ll need to operate 24-7.”

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. is also making preparations. The Bloomington, Illinois-based company is readying teams to handle damage claims, said Kim Conyers, a spokeswoman in North Carolina.

From New York to Maine, officials kept a wary eye on the storm. In New York City, a direct hit by Irene may produce a storm surge of at least 6 feet (1.8 meters), and may prompt an evacuation of the Rockaways, Coney Island and Manhattan’s lower tip, said Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway.

Twin Threats

In Rhode Island, the storm may pose two threats, said Riel, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard.

“A surging tide represents a real threat to our 21 coastal communities, and a low watershed represents a significant riverine flooding threat” inland, Riel said by telephone.

Irene might dump 6 inches (15 centimeters) to 12 inches of rain on Massachusetts, said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Agency. He said the biggest concern in the Bay State is “hurricane amnesia” because the last one to hit was Bob in 1991.

“Many people have never been through one of these, or it’s been so long they don’t have a recollection of the impact and the timing,” he said.

Lamont Logan of Newport News, Virginia, remembers well how bad it can be, after having lost power for two weeks when the remnants of Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003. He was stocking up on water, ice, canned goods and batteries yesterday.

“It was a whole lot of crazy stuff,” he said. “I learned my lesson that time.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Simone Baribeau in Miami at sbaribeau@bloomberg.net; Mark Niquette in Columbus, Ohio, at mniquette@bloomberg.net; Chris Burritt in Greensboro, North Carolina, at cburritt@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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