Hurricane Irene could hit anywhere along the east coast this weekend, leaving officials in the path of uncertainty to make a delicate decision. Should they tell tourists to leave during one of the last weeks of the multibillion-dollar summer season?
Most were in a wait-and-see mode, holding out to get every dollar before the storm’s path crystalizes. North Carolina’s governor told reporters not to scare people away.
“You will never endanger your tourists, but you also don’t want to over inflate the sense of urgency about the storm and so let’s just hang on,’’ North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue said on Wednesday. At the same time she warned people to “prepare for the worst.”
The National Hurricane Center issued the first hurricane watch for the outer islands of North Carolina early yesterday.
Also, a tropical storm watch has been issued for much of South Carolina’s coast.
A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours.
Early yesterday, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season had maximum sustained winds swirling at 185kph and it was moving northwest at 19kph.
Its track has it possibly hitting the Outer Banks of North Carolina by tomorrow.
In the Bahamas early yesterday, the head of the National Emergency Management Agency said that at least two settlements had been devastated on the southern islands of Acklins and Crooked. Captain Stephen Russell said an official there reported that 90 percent of the homes in the settlements had been severely damaged or destroyed. Several hundred people live on each island. No injuries have been reported.
They were among the first to be hit on Wednesday as the hurricane made its way up the chain. Tourists cut their vacations short and caught the last flights out before the airport was closed.
Irene has already hit Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, causing landslides and flooding homes. One woman was killed.
Officials said Irene could cause flooding, power outages or worse as far north as Maine, even if the eye of the storm stays offshore. Hurricane-force winds were expected 80km from the center of the storm.
Predicting the path of such a huge storm can be tricky, but the National Hurricane Center uses computer models to come up with a “cone of uncertainty,” a three-day forecast that has become remarkably accurate in recent years. Forecasters are still about a day away from the cone reaching the east coast. A system currently over the Great Lakes will play a large role in determining if Irene is pushed farther to the east in the next three or four days.
Country music star Kenny Chesney moved a Sunday concert in Foxborough, Massachusetts, up to today to avoid the storm. High school football games were also rescheduled and officials still had not decided whether to postpone Sunday’s dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial on the National Mall. Hundreds of thousands were expected for the event.