Haley: SC is ready; NC issues evacuation order - FOX Carolina 21

Haley: SC is ready; NC issues evacuation order

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GREENVILLE, SC (AP/FOX Carolina) -

As a strengthening Hurricane Irene churns into the Bahamas, officials in the Carolinas are getting agencies and residents ready for the approaching storm.

Those along the carolina coast are preparing for the possibility that Irene could pay them a visit.

On Tuesday night, South Carolina emergency management officers and Governor Nikki Haley said they are watching Hurricane Irene closely.

Haley said she's meeting with the Department of Transportation and the National Guard, who are on standby to activate lane reversal, if they need to.

She said earlier this year agencies participated in what she called "table top" exercises over a series of days to prepare for hurricane season. That means all agencies go through a series of steps as a storm approaches from 72 to 48 to 24 hours.

Haley said she doesn't want people along the coast to panic.  At this time she's not calling for evacuations.  The earliest that decision would be made could be on Thursday.

Haley said families along the coast need to have a storm plan in place for the hurricane season. 

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Irene will strengthen into a major hurricane with winds of 115 mph or greater by Wednesday morning. The track has the eye of the storm making landfall on the coast of North Carolina by early Sunday.

On Tuesday, the American Red Cross in western North Carolina said it placed its 247 trained disaster volunteers on alert for possible deployment. The volunteers are trained in emergency shelter management, disaster assessment, mental health and nursing.

The Upstate Red Cross said it has placed about 20 workers on alert as of Tuesday, but said it is in the process of evaluating the availability of other volunteers.

Evacuation ordered for NC island

Authorities on North Carolina's Ocracoke Island have issued a mandatory evacuation order for visitors to leave starting at 5 a.m. Wednesday as Hurricane Irene approaches.

Officials said Tuesday that a mandatory evacuation order for all non-emergency personnel will go into effect Thursday morning for the barrier island, which is only accessible by boat.

Tommy Hutcherson, a resident who serves on the local board that makes decisions about when to evacuate, said officials want to have enough time to get everybody off.

Ocracoke has about 800 full-time residents and a population that swells to thousands of visitors in the summer.

Irene marks first big US threat in years

Forecasters said Irene is likely to become a major Category 3 hurricane by tomorrow.

A NHC hurricane specialist said the first Atlantic hurricane of the season could become a Category 4 with winds of 131 mph or more by Thursday as it roars toward the U.S. coast over warm open waters.

The hurricane could eventually land in Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.

The rapidly intensifying Irene that's already cut a destructive path through the Caribbean is the first hurricane to seriously threaten the U.S. in almost three years, a worry for some emergency management officials who hope people haven't become complacent about the dangers.

The last hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. was Ike, which pounded Texas in 2008.

What can western Carolinas expect?

FOX Carolina meteorologist Alexandra Wilson said that if Irene's track keeps moving further east, the Upstate and mountains will not see more than stiff breezes. She said most of the rain will be held east of Charlotte.

Copyright 2011 FOX Carolina. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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