Hurricane Irene, with winds of 120 m.p.h., is now on a track to make landfall in North Caroline, then move toward New York and New Engalnd.
Powerful Hurricane Irene battered the Bahamas Wednesday on a track to the North Carolina coast that forecasters say could threaten the densely populated U.S. Northeast, including New York, starting Sunday.
Irene, a major Category 3 storm with winds of 120 miles per hour, pounded the southeast Bahamian islands with winds, rain and dangerous storm surge. Tourists fled the storm and major cruise lines canceled Bahamas stops.
The first hurricane of the storm-filled 2011 Atlantic season was expected to gain strength after it leaves the Bahamas Thursday and race across open waters to clip North Carolina's jutting Outer Banks region Saturday.
After that, forecasters see it hugging the U.S. eastern seaboard, swirling rains and winds across several hundred miles as it churns northward toward New England.
``The exact center of the storm may actually stay pretty close to the coastline during the day on Saturday and then become a big threat for New England and perhaps Long Island ... on Sunday,'' U.S. National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said.
``Be advised, it's going to be a very large circulation as it moves north of the Carolinas,'' he told a conference call.
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