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Hurricane Earl Strengthens, Heads for North Carolina

Hurricane Earl Strengthens, Heads for North Carolina
A resident screws down a sheet of plywood over a window to protect it from the winds of the approaching Hurricane Earl in Buxton, North Carolina. Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Hurricane Earl bore down on North Carolina with winds of 140 miles (225 kilometers) per hour, prompting coastal evacuations and emergency declarations, while storm warnings were issued in Bermuda as Tropical Storm Fiona advanced.

Earl is the third-strongest hurricane ever to travel so far north along the East Coast, Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters said today in his blog. Its winds are just 5 mph below the strength of the 1955 and 1961 storms that hold the record, he said.

Hurricane warnings are in effect from Bogue Inlet, North Carolina, to the Virginia line and from Westport, Massachusetts, to Hull, including Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island, the National Hurricane Center said in its 11 a.m. advisory.

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

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. Meteorologists 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.”

Moving North

Earl was 300 miles south of Cape Hatteras moving north at 18 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm’s winds, already the strongest of the Atlantic season, accelerated from 140 mph yesterday.

“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.

Tom and Veronica Weber, of New York’s Long Island, left Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, today, cutting short a week’s vacation to comply with a mandatory evacuation order on the Outer Banks. Traveling with two children and another relative, the couple plans to drive nine hours in hopes of beating Earl to New York.

Moving Out

“I don’t want to get hit by the hurricane twice,” said Tom Weber, 40, as he packed luggage. “I would rather ride it out at home.”

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, Tropical Storm Fiona, with 50 mph winds, headed toward Bermuda and is expected to pass close to the island nation sometime in the next two days. Fiona was 550 miles south of Bermuda, moving north-northwest at 17 mph, the Hurricane Center said before 11 a.m. Miami time.

Behind Fiona, Gaston, which was downgraded to a tropical depression, was about 970 miles west of the Cape Verde islands moving west at 7 mph, the center said at 9 a.m. Miami time. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

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