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Tourists leaving beaches as Hurricane Earl gets closer to East Coast

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Powerful Hurricane Earl wheeled toward the
East Coast, driving the first tourists Wednesday from North
Carolina vacation islands and threatening damaging winds and waves
up the Atlantic seaboard over Labor Day weekend.
Visitors were taking ferries off Ocracoke Island and told to
leave neighboring Cape Hatteras in North Carolina's Outer Banks,
and federal authorities have warned people all along the Eastern
seaboard to be prepared to evacuate.
Virginia's Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency as a
precaution, allowing the state to position staff and resources
ahead of the storm. Emergency officials as far north as Maine urged
people to have disaster plans and supplies ready.
Earl was still more than 700 miles south-southeast of Cape
Hatteras, with top sustained winds of 125 mph. It was on track to
near the North Carolina shore late Thursday or early Friday and
then blow north along the coast, with forecasters cautioning that
it was still too early to tell how close the storm may come to
land.
The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for much
of the North Carolina coast and hurricane watches from Virginia to
Delaware.
Not since Hurricane Bob in 1991 has such a powerful storm had
such a large swath of the East Coast in its sights, said Dennis
Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.
"A slight shift of that track to the west is going to impact a
great deal of real estate with potential hurricane-force winds,"
Feltgen said.
Even if Earl stays well offshore, it will kick up rough surf and
dangerous rip currents up and down the coast through the Labor Day
weekend, a prime time for beach vacations, forecasters said.
The only evacuation orders so far affected parts of the Outer
Banks, thin strips of beach and land that face the open Atlantic.
Tourist cars, some with campers in tow, lined up for the first
ferries of the day from Ocracoke to the mainland. Another car ferry
connects to Hatteras, which has a bridge to the mainland and came
under the second evacuation order a little later Wednesday morning.
The evacuation orders are called mandatory, but Julia Jarema,
spokeswoman for the state Division of Emergency Management, said it
doesn't mean people will be forced from their homes. Local law
enforcement officials may do something such as going door-to-door
and asking people who stay behind for their information about their
next of kin.
Emergency officials said they hoped Ocracoke's 800 or so
year-round residents would heed the call to leave. But Carol Paul
said she and husband Tom would stay put if the current forecasts
hold. Only a direct hit from a stronger storm would drive them from
the island where they've lived for seven years, running an antiques
store.
"There's never been a death on Ocracoke from a hurricane, so we
feel pretty comfortable," Carol Paul 57, said as tourists departed
on ferries and her husband, also a construction contractor, worked
to board up the windows of clients and friends' homes. "Everything
here is made pretty much with hurricanes in mind."
The approaching storm troubled many East Coast beach towns that
had hoped to capitalize on the BP oil spill and draw visitors who
normally vacation on the Gulf Coast.
Carl Hanes of Newport News, Va., kept an eye on the weather
report as he headed for the beach near his rented vacation home in
Avon, N.C. He, his wife and their two teenage children were
anticipating Earl might force them to leave on Thursday, a day
ahead of schedule.
"We're trying not to let it bother us," Hanes said before
enjoying the calm surf.
In Rehoboth Beach, Del., Judy Rice said she has no plans to
leave the vacation home where she has spent most of the summer. In
fact, the Oak Hill, Va., resident plans to walk around town in the
rain if it comes.
"I kind of enjoy it actually. You know, it's battling the
elements," Rice said. "I have seen the rain go sideways, and,
yeah, it can be scary, but I have an old house here in Rehoboth, so
it's probably more important that I am here during a storm than
anywhere."
In the Florida Panhandle, which has struggled all summer to coax
back tourists scared away by the Gulf oil spill, bookings were up
12 percent over last year at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.
The resort is nowhere near Earl's projected path, and spokeswoman
Laurie Hobbs said she suspects the increase in reservations was
partly because of a discount the hotel is offering and partly
because of the hurricane.
"Weather drives business," she said. "They go to where the
weather is best."
If Earl brings rain farther inland, it could affect the U.S.
Open tennis tournament, being played now through Sept. 12 in New
York City.
"We're keeping our eye on it very closely," said United States
Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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