Hurricane Earl to Hit North Carolina Thursday

Hurricane Earl, a powerful Category 4 storm with winds as high as 145 mph, is expected to hit the outer-lying islands of the North Carolina coast this afternoon.

Thousands of tourists and residents have evacuated the area, which is currently under a state of emergency declared by both President Barack Obama and North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue.

As of late Wednesday evening, Earl was about 520 miles away from North Carolina's coast with hurricane-force winds extending out 90 miles from the storm's center and tropical storm-force winds extending 230 miles out.

Earl is not expected to make landfall, but forecasters have warned that a slight change in the storm's direction could make it significantly more dangerous.

"If the turns occur a little bit later than we're forecasting it could bring more of a threat at that time to extreme eastern Long Island or southeastern New England," Hurricane Center Director Bill Read told Reuters.

Hurricane watches and warnings -which mean that severe conditions could reach certain areas within 48 and 36 hours, respectively- have been posted throughout the East Coast from Virginia to Maine.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley have both declared states of emergency.

Earl is the first hurricane to threaten the East Coast in over 15 years, the last one being Hurricane Bob in 1991, which killed 15 people and caused some $2.8 billion in damage to New England and Atlantic Canada residents.

Bob was a Category 3 storm with winds of 115 mph, and initially brushed North Carolina's Outer Banks before moving upward.

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