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Hurricane Irene swells to Category 3 overnight

August 24, 2011 |  7:25 am


Forecasters' worst fears are being realized as Hurricane Irene continues to grow in strength -- swelling to a Category 3 storm overnight and shifting closer to land -- raising fears that it will carve a potentially deadly path of destruction along the Eastern seaboard when it makes landfall later this week.

The Category 3 designation means the storm has sustained winds of more than 115 miles per hour, and the hurricane remains on path to become a Category 4 storm, with winds in excess of 131 mph, by week's end, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen told The Times.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

"We are urging everyone to follow the same advice we said yesterday: Pay close attention, check back several times a day to see where the storm is headed, and get prepared for this hurricane," he said. "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

The storm Wednesday morning was moving southeast of the Bahamas -- and headed straight for the Carolinas. It is expected to hit the coast this weekend, although forecasters stress that the path of the storm can quickly change. For now, though, Florida and Georgia appear as though they will be spared the worst of it.

Meanwhile, tourists on the tiny North Carolina barrier island of Ocracoke are being encouraged to evacuate immediately while full-time residents are being given an extra day to prepare their homes and collect their valuables. Extraordinary measures are being considered to help evacuate the area as quickly as possible: Traffic on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 40 may be reversed, allowing more people to flee westward.

View Hurricane Irene track forecast in a larger map


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-- Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch

Photo: Henry Paul boards up windows in preparation for Hurricane Irene in Nassau, Bahamas, on Tuesday. Such preparations are now being undertaken farther north, as the storm bears down on North Carolina. Credit: Lynne Sladky / Associated Press