Gaining Strength, Hurricane Irene Ready to Blow By Florida
Category 3 storm batters the Bahamas; Outer Banks are the next target
Around the State
Hurricane Irene stormed into the Bahamas with 115 mph winds Wednesday on her way toward the United States.
The Category 3 storm was intensifying over warm waters and growing in size. Computer models continued to forecast that Irene would turn to the north, sparing Florida from direct impacts.
But FEMA director Craig Fugate cautioned that even diminished wind and rain far from the center of the storm can wreak havoc.
"Even tropical-force winds and rains can cause serious damage, downing power lines and trees," Fugate said.
William Booher, spokesman for Florida's Division of Emergency Management, said storm watches have been issued for coastal waterways, but not for the mainland.
"Given the current models, we don't expect a change," Booher said.
High surf is expected along Florida's east coast Thursday and Friday.
Meantime, Irene is leaving a trail of destruction. The storm's remnants were still dumping rain on Puerto Rico Wednesday afternoon. The U.S. Coast Guard said it was conducting port and air assessments in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to help re-open ports there as soon as possible.
As the storm moved into the southeast Bahamas at a plodding pace of 12 mph, the National Guard moved personnel into Puerto Rico to provide support for clearing roads and debris, transporting equipment, restoring communications, and conducting urban search and rescue efforts.
National Weather Service forecasters expect Irene to turn more sharply north at a latitude east of Jacksonville and head for the Outer Banks of the Carolinas on Saturday morning.
"Evacuation orders have begun there," Fugate said in a Wednesday morning conference call.
Citing the storm's large area of circulation, the NWS called Irene "a big threat to Long Island and New England on Sunday."
Fugate said President Barack Obama, who is vacationing at Martha's Vineyard, has been briefed on the storm's track, but has not been evacuated.
Fugate added FEMA teams are moving farther north as Irene prepares to make its turn in that direction.
The American Red Cross also is sending volunteers to North Carolina and South Carolina, and moving feeding trucks and communications equipment to East Coast states.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.