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North Carolina coast braces for Hurricane Earl

A hurricane watch has been issued for most of the North Carolina coast, as Hurricane Earl, now a Category 3 storm, threatens to brush that region on Friday.

At 5 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Earl was 175 miles northeast of Grand Turk Island, or about 815 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., moving northwest at 16 mph with sustained winds of 125 mph.

The storm is still projected to remain about 500 miles off the coast of Florida as it parallels the state on Wednesday.

Earl has swelled into a large storm, with hurricane force winds extending 90 miles from its center and tropical storm force winds extending 200 miles. It threatens to produce up to 6 inches of rain and large battering waves along its path.

The forecast track takes the system just east of the Outer Banks, close enough that that region likely will feel much of its ferocious weather.

A sliver of a good news in the latest forecast: Earl might weaken into a Category 2 system, with winds of 110 mph, as it approaches the Carolinas late Thursday or early Friday.

Just the same, federal emergency management officials are asking residents of that area to prepare for a potential strike and the possibility of evacuations.

North Carolina officials late Tuesday announced the first evacuation would be Ocracoke Island beginning at 5 a.m. Wednesday. Tourists would be ordered to leave the barrier island accessible only by ferries, but those who live there year-round have the option to stay.

Tropical Storm Fiona, meanwhile, remains a weak system. At 5 a.m. EDT Wednesday it was in the Atlantic 200 miles east-southeast of the Northern Leeward Islands, heading west-northwest at 14 mph with sustained winds of 45 mph.

It is forecast to stay well east of the United States, although it might curve near Bermuda on Friday.

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