Evacuations Begin as Hurricane Irene Nears Category 4 Strength

Wind speeds are expected to exceed 131 miles per hour

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Update (12:41 p.m. ET): CBS News reports New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a state of emergency in the state "in advance of Hurricane Irene." The decision follows Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell's declaration of a state of emergency earlier today, which frees up state resources to prepare for turbulent weather. Christian Science Monitor has a list of tips to keep safe during a hurricane here.

Update (12:21 p.m. ET): According to Reuters, New York City officials have prepared "to evacuate coastal areas and rescue stranded New Yorkers with a fleet of police boats in case the city gets socked by Hurricane Irene this weekend." Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters, "We hope for the best but we prepare for the worst and that's why I think this city is ready for this weekend." Currently, Irene is a Category 3 hurricane hammering the Bahamas. It's expected to move along the East Coast this weekend.

Update (12:10 p.m. ET): The Weather Channel notes that everyone "in the corridor from eastern North Carolina to the Northeast U.S. should be preparing for a hurricane!" They've projected Irene's route as such:

Update (11:02 a.m. ET): The AP reports all residents, not just tourists, have been ordered to evacuate Dare County in North Carolina, which applies to all 35,000 of the county's year-round residents. Already, an evacuation order took effect for up to 150,000 tourists this morning.

Update: AccuWeather senior meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski says Irene is "now on a path that could take it dangerously close to, if not over, the mid-Atlantic coastline and New York City on Sunday, posing a serious danger to millions of people," noting that it could "pass within 30 miles of the city as a Category 2 hurricane with winds between 96 and 110 miles per hour.

The hurricane threatening the East Coast is getting bigger. This morning, forecasters estimate Hurricane Irene will grow to a Category 4 storm with winds exceeding 131 miles per hour. Already, the storm has ravaged the Bahamas with as much as 15 inches of rain on at least two southern islands and people in the coastal Carolinas have begun evacuating, reports CNN. "The mandatory evacuation order for Dare County, North Carolina -- home to Manteo, Nags Head, Duck and historic Kitty Hawk -- is only for tourists. Residents can stay for now, but emergency officials have put them on notice." The National Hurricane Center has issued storm warnings to a number of swaths of the Carolinas. The storm is expected to "pound" much of the East Coast on Saturday morning but the National Weather Service tells The Wall Street Journal a number of factors could change that. "Variables such as wind shear, clashing air-pressure systems and warm-water pockets could push the storm farther east or west, potentially spelling the difference between light wind and rain or major destruction along a coastline." The last time a major hurricane hit the U.S. was in 2005 with Hurricane Wilma.

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