NASSAU (Reuters) - Powerful Hurricane Irene could pose a "big threat" to the densely populated northeast United States, including New York, as it swings up the eastern seaboard from Saturday on its current forecast track, the top U.S. government hurricane forecaster said on Wednesday.
National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read gave the warning as Irene, now a major Category 3 storm with winds of 115 miles per hour, roared through the Bahamas on a path that will take it to the U.S. East Coast by the weekend.
As it swept over the southeastern Bahamas, its winds tore off home roofs and knocked out power, authorities reported.
Some tourists fled Nassau and other resorts in the low-lying Atlantic archipelago, while others hunkered down in hotels, and cruise lines canceled their Bahamas stops for the next few days.
Forecasters see the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season, turning north from Thursday to miss Florida and Georgia and clip North Carolina's Outer Banks region on Saturday afternoon. Irene is then seen taking a coast-hugging track up the U.S. mid-Atlantic and New England coastline.
States from the Carolinas northward were on alert and evacuations were already underway in some of North Carolina's most exposed Outer Banks barrier islands, such as Ocracoke.