Irene’s next threat is to the Northeastern coast and Long Island on Sunday. Tropical storm- and hurricane-force winds along with rain and beach erosion are expected along the Mid-Atlantic coast and the Northeast as the storm progresses, Read said.
Fugate cautioned Northeast residents who don’t frequently see hurricanes not to focus on the eye of storm or its intensity. Irene lashed the Bahamas Wednesday with winds of 115 miles (185 kilometers) an hour, picking up power as it barreled along a path that threatens the populous US east coast.
Gaining strength over warm seas, the first hurricane of the Atlantic storm season was expected to grow in intensity to a category four storm with winds up to 135 miles (217 kilometers) per hour over the central Bahamas, forecasters said.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center declared Irene a major category three hurricane on the five level Saffir-Simpson scale shortly before it reached the southeastern end of the Bahama islands.
In the Dominican Republic, authorities said more than 11,000 people were evacuated to shelters before the storm winds brushed the island's north coast late Monday.
Hurricane Irene became a major storm on Wednesday, upgraded to Category 3 as it battered parts of the Bahamas with 115-mile-per hour winds and took aim on the New York area. Forecast models show a high threat level for eastern North Carolina to New England, and models showed Long Island holds potential for a direct strike.
The massive storm, the first of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, could gain strength as it moves up along the U.S. East Coast before possibly striking the New York area late on Sunday at hurricane strength.
Already on Wednesday some North Carolina coastal communities were evacuating ahead of the storm. Early Wednesday, Hurricane Irene was upgraded to a Category 3 storm -- moving it into the "major" storm grouping.
Hurricane Irene was over the southeastern Bahamas Wednesday morning, moving at nine miles per hour. Tide levels in the Bahamas could reach as high as 11-feet above normal, officials said, with a high storm surge creating dangerous waves near the coast.
Hurricane Irene could make landfall on Long Island or in southeast New England late Sunday afternoon or Sunday night.
Heavy rain, pounding surf, rip currents and strong winds are expected along the the coast into New England as the storm approaches and passes.
Forecasts show Irene could clip the Outer Banks of North Carolina by late Friday as a Catogory 3 storm packing maximum sustained winds of up to at least 120 miles per hour.