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Hurricane Irene nears US east coast

Hurricane Irene has regained Category 2 strength with 100mph winds as it heads toward the east coast of the United States.

The National Hurricane Centre in Miami said additional strengthening is expected and Irene could become a major hurricane in the next day or so.

Early on Wednesday, the hurricane was centred about 400 miles south east of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving west-north west at nearly 9mph.

In North Carolina, tourists on Ocracoke Island, which is accessible only by boat, have been told to evacuate ahead of the hurricane. It will be a test of whether people in the crosshairs of what could be the first monster storm in years along the East Coast will heed orders to get out of the way.

On Tuesday, punishing winds from Irene howled over Turks and Caicos and the sparsely populated islands of the south eastern Bahamas as residents huddled in darkened homes, hotels and public buildings.

Islanders pulled boats ashore and packed supermarkets on the Turks and Caicos Islands before the storm, then at Category 1 strength, spun over open seas toward the tiny British territory, where tourism is the primary industry. The government moved the elderly and sick to safety as power was knocked out in the capital and light poles were toppled.

Howling winds were rattling the storm shutters on Sandra Thompson's windows at her home in Providenciales in the eight-island British dependency between Haiti and the Bahamas, roughly 600 miles south east of Miami.

"I can sure hear the wind howling out there. There's still a lot of rain falling outside and a lot of wind," Ms Thompson said by phone on Tuesday night.

Ms Thompson and other islanders were thankful that the hurricane had lost a bit of steam as it approached the territory. It weakened into a Category 1 storm while forecasters at the National Hurricane Centre had initially expected Irene to strengthen into a Category 3.

Irene might make landfall over the North Carolina coast on Saturday, then move to the north near the Chesapeake Bay.

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