Hurricane Irene: Ocracoke Island, NC Imposes Mandatory Evacuation

As Hurricane Irene moves towards Ocracoke Island, residents and tourists have been placed under a mandatory evacuation at 5 a.m. Thursday morning.

Emergency officials have marked the popular North Carolina vacation spot along the path of the approaching hurricane, the first in several years to pose such a serious threat to the U.S.

“It’s a big storm,” said North Carolina Governor Bev Purdue. “We must all prepare for the worst,” she continued in a statement about the mandatory evacuation.

Over 800 people will be leaving the island Thursday as Irene approaches.

Currently a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, Irene may strengthen to up to 135 mph winds by the time it reaches the East Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Energized tropical waters could propel the hurricane into a Category 4, making it the worst storm to hit the U.S. since Wilma struck Florida in 2005.

Hurricane Irene is expected to follow a path toward to East Coast and gather more momentum, possibly hitting Florida and Georgia by Thursday, and then moving toward to Carolinas over the weekend. The storm also threatens New York City, Long Island, and Boston, and could reach those areas by early next week.

The Caribbean has already witnessed the strength of Irene, which caused an estimated $3.1 billion in damage. From Maine all the way to Florida, officials are carefully monitoring the activity of Hurricane Irene.

President Obama has declared a state of emergency in lieu of Hurricane Irene, which permits federal aid to response efforts.

The first hurricane of the 2011 season, Irene has already proved monstrous. Last year, Ocracoke residents evacuated the area, which is only accessible by boat, as a precaution against Hurricane Earl. The storm was less severe than expected, so the decision to evacuate this year due to Irene was held off until the threat was very serious.

In New York City, Irene could cause a storm surge of at least 6 feet, and may result in the Rockaways, Coney Island, and Manhattan’s lower tip being evacuated, according to Bloomberg.