Hurricane Earl is quickly closing in on a large part of the U.S. east coast, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate from barrier islands in the U.S. state of North Carolina.

While the eye of the category four (on a scale of five) storm is not expected to make a U.S. landfall, the hurricane is on course to lash the coast of North Carolina late Thursday before shifting to the north.  Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches are in effect along the mid-Atlantic coast and as far north as Maine.

National Hurricane Center forecasters say the storm has sustained winds of 220 kilometers per hour and they warn that waves pushed onto shore by the winds could raise water levels along the coast as much as 1.5 meters.

The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have declared states of emergency.

President Barack Obama also has declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, allowing the federal government to coordinate disaster relief efforts there.

Earl already has skirted parts of the eastern Caribbean, flooding parts of Antigua and ripping out trees and blowing down power lines on St. Martin.  Officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico say they are working to restore electricity to more than 200,000 people.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami also is watching another tropical storm system that is expected to pass near Bermuda by early Saturday.  A third storm has weakened and is now a tropical depression moving slowly toward the Lesser Antilles islands.


Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.