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Hurricane Irene heading for North Carolina, Washington, New York (video)

Hurricane Irene weakened to 110 m.p.h. winds, but Irene is expected to strengthen to a Category 3 hurricane again is it reaches North Carolina

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North Carolina braced Friday for a direct hit from Hurricane Irene, cities along the U.S. east coast were on alert and millions of beach goers cut short vacations to escape the powerful storm.

With more than 50 million people potentially in Irene's path, residents stocked up on food and water and worked to secure homes, vehicles and boats. States, cities, ports, oil refineries and nuclear plants scrambled to activate emergency plans.

``I filled my tank up with gas in case I need to leave in a hurry or something, and get a lot of food supplies, taking everything out of my yard ... anything that can fly into a window,'' said Patricia Stapleton of Newport, North Carolina.

Irene lashed the low-lying Bahamas on Thursday and was expected to hit North Carolina on Saturday before heading up the coast to New York and beyond.

Irene weakened slightly early on Friday -- to a Category 2 hurricane from a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale -- but still was packing winds of up to 110 miles per hour.

At 5 a.m. EDT, its center was about 420 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.


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