Sep 2, 2010 1:34 PM by Bea Karnes, News First 5

Hurricane warnings, watches spread up the East Coast

As Hurricane Earl churned toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina with top sustained winds near 140 mph, forecasters issued a hurricane warning much further up the coast Thursday for parts of Massachusetts, including Nantucket.

The center of Earl was about 300 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., around midday Thursday.

With the storm expected to start hitting North Carolina later in the day, officials expanded mandatory evacuation orders across new areas of the state's low-lying barrier islands.

The orders affect all visitors throughout Dare County as well as residents and visitors to the popular town of Nags Head, county emergency relief officials said.

Mandatory evacuations, similar to those already in effect for Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island, were also ordered for the beach communities at Morehead City, authorities said.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a tropical storm warning early Thursday for the coast of Long Island and a hurricane watch was issued for areas of Massachusetts. A hurricane warning was already in effect for the North Carolina coast.

Canadian officials also put parts of the Nova Scotia coast under a tropical storm watch.

Category 4 storm Earl, which has maximum sustained winds near 145 mph, was located about 410 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and was moving north-northwest near 18 mph.

Forecasters said the storm had strengthened slightly, but expected gradual weakening to start later Thursday. Hurricane-force winds extend outward 90 miles from its center.

Watches and warnings were posted along the Atlantic coast for most of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and part of Massachusetts, alerting residents that hurricane and tropical storm conditions were possible within 36 to 48 hours.

No storm has threatened such a broad swath of the U.S. shoreline - the densely populated coast from North Carolina to New England - since Hurricane Bob in 1991, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

The last Category 4 to approach the Outer Banks was Helene in 1950, NBC News Meteorologist Bill Karins reported.



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