From Florida to the Carolinas, emergency personnel are gearing up as the first hurricane "seriously" to threaten the U.S. in years blazes through the Caribbean, reports the Associated Press. "Forecasters say the hurricane could grow to a monstrous Category 4 storm with winds of more than 131 mph before it's predicted to come ashore this weekend on the U.S. mainland." While the severity and location of hurricanes is notoriously difficult to predict, this morning, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm could brush by Florida later this week and hit Georgia and the Carolinas. The storm is currently classified as a Category 2 in strength but the center said it may become a Category 3 today with winds over 111 miles per hour. As Manuel Jimenez at Reuters notes, Irene is predicted to be the first hurricane to hit the U.S. since Ike devastated the Texas coast in 2008. "The storm's core was expected to pass north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti early Tuesday and the southeastern Bahamas by late in the day," he notes. "It was moving to the west-northeast at 12 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended outward from the core to 50 miles and tropical storm-force winds extended out up to 205 miles." Officials are already bracing for impact. The AP notes that North Carolina emergency officials are double-checking trucks, forklifts, and generators while others in Florida were hoarding bottled water and plywood. Miami native Julio Gonzalez told the news agency he was going to the hardware store to bolster his home. "I'm gonna board up," he said. "It's best to play it safe." For another look at the hurricane, NASA has posted a view from space:
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