Hurricane Irene is now a Category 3 storm but is forecasted to become a Category 4 by Thursday.
Irene is currently on track to hit the Bahamas and move up somewhere along the U.S. east coast. A Category 4 hurricane packs winds from 131 to 155 mph and has a storm surge of 13 to 18 feet.
Powerful Hurricane Irene Menaces Bahamas
Some tourists caught the last planes out of the Bahamas on Wednesday while others remained behind with residents, preparing for what was expected to be a rough night as large and powerful Hurricane Irene threatened to deliver punishing winds and floods to the low-lying chain of islands.
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The Bahamian capital buzzed with last-minute preparations, with the government and some major resorts setting up emergency shelters and store owners boarding up their windows. Nassau's downtown is known to flood even in heavy rain so the storm surge was expected to make many roads impassable, especially in the colonial downtown.
Many visitors weren't waiting around to find out what would happen and fled the country, waiting in long lines to catch planes before the airport closed. Some tourists had no choice but to leave since smaller hotels abruptly closed and larger ones were booked up with Bahamian residents looking for a place to ride out the storm. Others flying out simply didn't want to take their chances with what could be a major storm.
Obama Gets Briefings on Hurricane Irene
The White House is urging people living in the path of Hurricane Irene to follow the advice and warning of state and local officials as the storm approaches.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says President Barack Obama was briefed Wednesday on the latest developments. He says FEMA is also coordinating with state and local officials.
Hurricane Irene strengthened to a major Category 3 storm over the Bahamas on Wednesday. Evacuations began on a tiny barrier island off North Carolina as the storm moved toward the East Coast.
The storm could impact Martha's Vineyard, the island enclave off the Massachusetts coast where Obama is vacationing. The White House says there are no plans at this point to change Obama's scheduled Saturday return to Washington.
US East Coast Braces for Impact
Tourists on a small North Carolina island have begun evacuating as Hurricane Irene heads for the East Coast after leaving more than 11,000 displaced in Dominican Republic.
It won't be an easy task to get thousands of people off Ocracoke Island, which is accessible only by boat. Ocracoke is home to about 800 year-round residents and thousands of vacationers each summer. Tourists started evacuating Wednesday at 5 a.m. The island's residents have been told to evacuate Thursday.
The first ferry to leave the island early Wednesday had around a dozen cars on it.
More than 11,000 displaced in D.R. by Irene's passage
A total of 11,157 people had to abandon their homes in the Dominican Republic due to heavy rains brought by the passage of Hurricane Irene, the authorities reported Tuesday.
Of the total number of affected people, 9,750 are staying in the homes of friends and relatives and the rest are in official shelters, according to a communique issued by the Emergency Operations Center, which is maintaining a maximum alert for a large part of the country.
The agency also said that 1,300 guests in three hotels in the tourist zone of Bayahibe, in the eastern province of Altagracia, were moved to other floors in the same buildings because of flooding caused by the rain from the storm.
The rain has cut off 25 towns in the eastern provinces of El Seibo, San Pedro de Macoris and Monte Plata, officials said.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center announced Tuesday that Irene, which is expected to become a major hurricane, is heading toward the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The eye of the hurricane is located 110 kilometers (68 miles) south of Grand Turk and 85 kilometers (53 miles) north-northwest of the Dominican city of Puerto Plata, the NHC said in its 1500 GMT bulletin.
Irene is currently a Category 2 storm on the ascending five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of 160 kph (99 mph), and it is predicted to strengthen over the next 48 hours.
As it moves over the warmer waters of the Caribbean Sea, it is quite possible that Irene will become a Category 3 or 4 storm.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press and EFE.