Hurricane Irene, potentially the most powerful and damaging storm to hit the U.S. in several years, strengthened to a category three storm Tuesday night into Wednesday. The daylight hours of Wednesday saw the storm pounding the Caribbean, relentlessly moving from the Dominican Republic towards the Bahamas. All across the Caribbean tourists were being evacuated from hotels and especially vulnerable islands ahead of a storm with winds packing speeds of 115 mph.
Back in the States hurricane warnings have gone up across the eastern seaboard. If the storm does make landfall it’s expected to hit the Carolinas the hardest. In North Carolina evacuations have already begun for some of the states outlying islands. On the barrier island of Ocracoke for example, both tourists and the island’s approximately 800 residents have already been told to leave. Ferries to the mainland have already started leaving Ocracoke.
Throughout the Carolina’s outlying islands businesses and homeowners have begun boarding up in an attempt to protect their property and belongings. Those gutsy enough to defy evacuation orders and attempt to ride out the storm are stocking up with the essentials including food, clean water, gasoline, and batteries.
At the very least Irene is expected to knock out power and cause damage to trees and fragile structures. At worst it could match previous hurricanes that caused significant property damage, coastal flooding and erosion, and a host of other issues. And with a 7′ storm surge and winds stretching 400 miles, Irene doesn’t even need to make landfall to cause problems.
Further up the coast preparations are being made as far north as New England. States like Maine and Massachusetts are especially vulnerable to excessive rainfall due to soil already saturated from heavy spring and summer rains. Any significant rain coming from Irene could potentially cause significant flooding in coastal cities.
Experts are predicting landfall sometime between Saturday and Sunday, although there’s no guarantee. As these storms change so frequently and rapidly, there is no sure way to tell who will be impacted, and when. Nonetheless, residents living anywhere along the eastern coast of the United States should begin to make preparations now while they have time. Homeowners should at the very least board up their windows and bring all unsecured items indoors. That includes gas grills, lawn furniture, children’s toys, etc.
In areas where evacuations are not mandatory residents might still consider heading for higher ground after they have secured their homes. Those who decide to stay should designate a safe area in their homes, or search for a local shelter at a school, fire hall, or other suitable building. Residents should also make provision for elderly or disabled family members and neighbors. If evacuation orders are issued by local governments residents should by all means obey them.