US & Canada

Hurricane Earl churns towards US east coast

Satellite image of hurricane Earl (l) and Tropical Storm Fiona on 31 August 2010
Image caption Earl will bring high winds and heavy rain to parts of the US east coast even if it stays offshore

Hurricane Earl is heading for the US east coast after causing power cuts and heavy rain across the eastern Caribbean.

The category-four storm is generating sustained winds of 215km/h (135mph).

A hurricane watch has been issued for most of the North Carolina coastline just ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) has warned people along the eastern seaboard to prepare for evacuations.

On Tuesday, Earl kept east of the Turks and Caicos Islands, where a tropical storm warning had been issued.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami say they expect the hurricane to turn north and then run parallel to the US east coast.

They said it was too early to tell how close it might come to land, but that they expect Earl to bring high winds and heavy rains to North Carolina's Outer Banks by late Thursday or early Friday even if it stays offshore.

The hurricane could then travel up the coast on the following days, affecting coastal regions from the Carolinas all the way north to Maine and wrecking the plans of holiday makers who like to spend the Labor Day holiday weekend at the beach.

Hurricane force

Forecasters said they expect Earl to intensify without reaching category five-strength.

The hurricane would be capable of causing storm surges and "catastrophic" damage if it hits land.

"We're just telling everybody to keep their eyes on the track and just keep checking back," NHC meteorologist Barry Baxter said.

Fema also asked people to keep alert to the path of the hurricane and to be prepared for possible evacuations.

"The most important thing for people living in Earl's potential tract to do is to listen to and follow the instructions of their local officials, including evacuation instructions if they are given," Fema Administrator Craig Fugate said.

On Monday, the hurricane battered the northeastern Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico, causing power cuts and flooding.

Earl is being closely followed by Tropical Storm Fiona, currently east of the Leeward Isles with winds of up to 65km/h.

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