Five thousand tourists on a holiday island off North Carolina were preparing to board ferries to the mainland today after an evacuation order as hurricane Earl threatened to sideswipe the east coast of the United States.
Vehicles were lined up to board ferries – the only public transport off Ocracoke Island – for the two-and-half-hour trip to shore.
Emergency services director Lindsey Mooney said officials hoped the island’s 800 permanent residents would follow the tourists, although they do not have to heed the order.
“I don’t remember the last time there was a mandatory evacuation order for the island,” said Hyde County commissioner Kenneth Collie.
More evacuations along the eastern seaboard could follow, depending on the path taken by the storm, which weakened to a category 3 hurricane early today as it whipped across the Caribbean with winds of 125 mph.
Earl was expected to remain over the open ocean before turning north and running parallel to the east coast, bringing high winds and heavy rain to North Carolina’s Outer Banks late tomorrow or early on Friday. From there, forecasters said, it could curve away from the coast as it makes its way north, perhaps hitting Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and the Maine shoreline on Friday night and Saturday.
Forecasters said that it was too early to tell how close Earl might come to land. The storm is the most powerful to threaten the east coast since hurricane Bob in 1991, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Centre.
“A slight shift of that track to the west is going to impact a great deal of real estate with potential hurricane-force winds,” Feltgen said.
The governor of Virginia planned to declare an emergency today to muster emergency personnel should Earl hit the state.
Winds from Earl’s outer fringes hit the Turks and Caicos Islands yesterday, when islanders gathered to watch big waves pound the shore.
“Anybody who hasn’t secured their boats by now is going to regret it,” said Kirk Graff, owner of Captain Kirk’s Flamingo Cove Marina.