Thousands evacuated as Hurricane Earl prepares to hit US east coast
Thousands of residents and holidaymakers were evacuated from the east coast of the United States last night as Hurricane Earl prepared to hit land with winds of up to 145mph.
States of emergency were declared in North Carolina, Virginia, and Mayland amid fears the Category 4 storm could become the most powerful hurricane in almost two decades.
Earl was expected to reach the eastern coastline in the early hours of this morning, battering North Carolina with high winds and heavy rains likely to cause dangerous floods.
More than 35,000 people were evacuated from the Hatteras and Ocracoke islands in Outer Banks as the strongest storm of the year descended on America’s east coast.
Forecasters warned that the potentially deadly storm could move north over the weekend, bringing chaos to America’s Labour Day holiday weekend and cancelling flights.
Millions of beachgoers and surfers who usually head for the beaches during the last weekend of the US summer season were told to keep a close watch on the hurricane’s development.
Warnings were in place up and down the east coast’s popular seaside resorts including Chesapeake Bay and Martha’s Vineyard, where Barack Obama and his family recently holidayed.
A hurricane watch, which means dangerous conditions are possible, was in effect as far north as Maine and the Canadian area of Nova Scotia.
Earl has already pummeled the Bahamas and eastern Caribbean with rain and heavy winds that downed trees, damaged homes, blocked roads and snapped power lines earlier this week.
Last night President Obama said emergency services were braced for the “worst case scenario” while the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) warned of “large and destructive waves”.
In Virginia, more than 200 National Guard troops were sent to Chesapeake Bay where 33 people were killed when Hurricane Isabel struck hit the area in 2003.
In New York officials from the Red Cross were preparing to open dozens of shelters on Long Island which could hold 60,000 people if houses are destroyed.
Cyndy Holda, of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which monitors the coastline, said: “The timing is not good for folks trying to enjoy the last good summer weekend, but safety and protection of personal property comes first.”
Airlines warned that flights could be cancelled, raising the prospect that transatlantic flights out of New York and Boston could be affected.
“Storm conditions are expected to make air travel difficult along the east coast, forcing some delays and cancellations of flights at airports in the region, including at its New York at Newark Liberty International Airport,” a spokesman for Continental Airlines said.
If Earl reaches US landfall it is thought to be the most powerful storm since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane, killed 26 people directly and caused almost $30bn in damage.
Hurricane Katrina was more deadly, killing at least 1,800 people and causing more than $80bn dollars in damage but was Category 3 when it struck Louisiana.
Earl comes hot on the heels of Hurricane Danielle and is being followed by Tropical Storm Fiona and Gaston, the seventh tropical storm of the season which has formed in the Atlantic.
Storms and hurricanes are named alphabetically and alternate between male and female names.