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Tourists in USA flee Hurricane Earl

Tourists on a North Carolina holiday island have been ordered to board ferries and head for the mainland as powerful Hurricane Earl threatens to hit the US east coast.

Hyde County emergency officials said the evacuation of Ocracoke Island would start at 5am for about 5,000 visitors.

The 800 or so year-round residents did not have to heed it, but Emergency Services Director Lindsey Mooney said officials hoped they would follow tourists on the two and a half hour trip to shore.

"I don't remember the last time there was a mandatory evacuation order for the island," Hyde County Commissioner Kenneth Collier said.

More evacuations along the Eastern Seaboard could follow, depending on the path taken by the Category 4 storm, which was whipping across the Caribbean with winds of 135mph (217kph).

Earl is expected to remain over the open ocean before turning north and running parallel to the East Coast, bringing high winds and heavy rain to North Carolina's Outer Banks by late on Thursday or early on Friday.

From there, forecasters said, it could curve away from the coast somewhat as it makes it way north, perhaps hitting Massachusetts' Cape Cod and the Maine shoreline on Friday night and Saturday.

Forecasters have cautioned that it is still too early to tell how close Earl might come to land. But not since Hurricane Bob in 1991 has such a powerful storm had such a large swathe of the East Coast in its sights, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Centre.

Virginia's governor is planning to declare an emergency on Wednesday, a preliminary step needed to muster emergency personnel should Earl hit the state.

On Tuesday, gusty winds from Earl's outer fringes whipped palm fronds and whistled through doors in the Turks and Caicos Islands as tied-down boats see-sawed on white-crested surf.

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