North Carolina's governor has declared a state of emergency as evacuation of the coast ahead of Hurricane Earl continues.
Gov. Beverly Perdue issued the declaration during a Wednesday afternoon briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center near the state capital.
Earl's strongest winds are expected to reach the coast Thursday night into Friday morning. Perdue warned residents along the Outer Banks to leave those areas immediately.
Already, hundreds of cars were backed up in traffic on N.C. Highway 12, the sole link between the fragile barrier islands and the mainland.
Forecasters believe Hurricane Earl could strengthen into a Category 4 storm with winds of more than 130 miles an hour later today.
It's on track to come close to the North Carolina shore late tomorrow or early Friday. If it turns to the north later than expected, its eye would make landfall on the eastern tip of North Carolina -- and hurricane-force winds also could reach New York's Long Island and Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for much of the North Carolina coast and hurricane watches from Virginia to Delaware.
The storm today -- with top winds of 125 miles an hour today -- forced tourists from North Carolina's vacation islands.
Virginia's governor has declared a state of emergency as a precaution, letting the state position staff and resources ahead of time.
As far north as Maine, emergency officials are urging people to
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