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Forecasters Say Irene Could Become Category 4

August 25, 2011

A hurricane watch is issued for the North Carolina coast as Irene has already caused two deaths in the Dominican Republic and ‘disturbing’ damage in the Bahamas, and forecasters say its winds could increase quickly over the next day as the hurricane moves toward the U.S.

The National Hurricane Center has issued the first hurricane watch for the outer islands of North Carolina as Hurricane Irene marches toward the U.S. coast.

Early Thursday, the center said Irene is approaching the northwestern Bahamas as a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds at 115 mph but the storm could become a category 4 hurricane by Thursday.

The head of the National Emergency Management Agency in the Bahamas said he received what he calls disturbing initial reports of damages from two southern islands that were some of the first to be hit as the storm approached the archipelago.

Capt. Stephen Russell tells The Associated Press that at least two settlements have been devastated on Acklins and Crooked islands. Russells says an official there reports that 90 percent of the homes in the settlements have been severely damaged or destroyed. Several hundred people live on each island. No injuries have been reported.

Forecasters say Irene’s winds could increase quickly over the next day as the storm moves farther on its path toward the U.S.

Hurricane and tropical storm watches will likely be required for parts of the southeastern U.S. coast by early Thursday, but officials in North Carolina’s coastal Dare County have already ordered as many as 150,000 tourists to leave beginning that morning.

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