Hurricane Irene has strengthened to a major Category 3 storm as it heads toward the East Coast.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Irene's maximum sustained winds have increased Wednesday to near 115 mph with additional strengthening forecast during the next day or so.
Meanwhile, evacuations have begun on a tiny barrier island off North Carolina early Wednesday in a test of whether people in the cross hairs of the first serious hurricane along the East Coast in years will heed orders to get out of the way.
"(The) bottom line is none of us know," said North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue. "The winds seem to be a little bit stronger, but it's a long time between now and Thursday and that's the first time with an assurance we'll be able to tell folks in North Carolina when it may touch down, what the winds will be and what the rains will be."
Irene is centered about 335 miles southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and is moving west-northwest near 9 mph.
Copyright 2011 FOX Carolina. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.