|Fells Point in Baltimore, Md. after Hurricane Isabel in Sept. 2003. With winds of more than 100 mph, 37 people lost their lives in the Baltimore area: Mike Memoli/The Greyhound/Loyola Collage, Md.|
Hurricane Earl swirled toward the East Coast on Thursday with treacherous winds and driving rain, forcing thousands of vacationers to evacuate parts of the Outer Banks and setting in motion a flurry of preparations to minimize damage as far north as Maine.
The National Weather Service restored Earl to a Category 4 hurricane late Wednesday when its winds increased to 135 mph. Coupled with heavy rain, Earl's winds threaten extensive destruction depending on how close they come to shore. By Thursday the winds had increased to 145 mph.
"This is a dangerous situation," said Gladys Rubio, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The last time a hurricane became such a threat to the East Coast was in 1991, when Hurricane Bob caused an estimated $620 million in damage, officials said.
Earl is expected to approach the vulnerable Outer Banks on Thursday night and the Delmarva Peninsula by Friday.
Forecasters were trying to determine whether the storm would stay offshore as it headed up the Northeast coast or bring hurricane-force winds to Long Island, the Boston metropolitan area and Cape Cod.
The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning early Thursday for the coast of Long Island in New York, and a hurricane watch was issued for areas of Massachusetts. A hurricane warning was already in effect for the coast of North Carolina.
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