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Irene could be "big threat" to Northeast
NASSAU (Reuters) - Powerful Hurricane Irene battered the Bahamas on Wednesday on a track to the North Carolina coast that forecasters say could threaten the densely populated U.S. Northeast, including New York, starting on Sunday.
Irene, a major Category 3 storm with winds of 120 miles per hour, was pounding southeast Bahamian islands with winds, rain and dangerous storm surge. Tourists fled the storm and major cruise lines canceled Bahamas stops for coming days.
The first hurricane of the storm-filled 2011 Atlantic season is expected to gather power after it leaves the Bahamas on Thursday and race across open warm waters to clip North Carolina's jutting Outer Banks region on Saturday afternoon.
After that, forecasters see it hugging the U.S. eastern seaboard, swirling rains and winds across several hundred miles (km) as it churns northward toward New England. The forecast track indicates Florida and Georgia will be spared.
"The exact center of the storm may actually stay pretty close to the coastline during the day on Saturday and then become a big threat for New England and perhaps Long Island toward 96 to 100 hours out on Sunday," National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said.