Eastern U.S. states are scrambling to prepare for a possible onslaught from a powerful hurricane heading toward the U.S. coast.
Forecasters Thursday issued hurricane watches and warnings for much of the eastern coast from North Carolina through New Jersey, where the storm is expected to hit starting on Saturday. Authorities in some of the affected areas are already evacuating residents and beach visitors.
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York have declared states of emergency to free up resources ahead of Hurricane Irene.
Video clip: Hurricane Irene 25 August 2011
In Virginia, the U.S. Navy ordered ships at a major port out to sea, where it said they can better weather such storms. Meanwhile, the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, urged residents to prepare to move to higher ground, saying some areas of the city could be ordered to evacuate.
Meanwhile, the storm continues to pound The Bahamas with winds as high as 185 kilometers per hour, though the National Hurricane center said the storm's effects should begin to diminish overnight there. Irene is currently a Category Three storm on a five-point scale, and the hurricane center has labeled it "dangerous."
The head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, told reporters Thursday that Irene will not just be a coastal storm. He said the storm will have an impact "well inland," both from flooding and winds, which can topple trees and cause power outages.
National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said even the nation's capital could be directly affected.
Irene is the first hurricane to seriously threaten the United States in three years.
Authorities say Irene could cause flooding in the U.S. mid-Atlantic and New England regions, where soil is saturated from recent heavy rains.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.