Category 3 Hurricane Irene is still on target to menace the East Coast of the United States this weekend. Orcacoke Island, which is accessible only by boat, has already been issued evacuation orders in advance of a possible strike to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Tourists began the mandatory Orcacoke Island evacuation early this morning as Hurricane Irene strengthened to a Category 3 storm overnight. The 16-mile-long barrier island can only be reached by ferry and plays hosts to thousands of tourists during the summer months. A mandatory evacuation of the 800 year-round residents of Orcacoke Island will follow on Thursday.

Hurricane Irene is currently lashing the Bahamas with 125 mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The hurricane is anticipated to possibly strengthen to a Category 4 and could even reach Category 5 strength in the next few days, according to reports from The Weather Channel.

The Hurricane Irene path right now targets the massive storm directly toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The current forecast track places Hurricane Irene just off the North Carolina/Virginia coast early on Sunday and over New England by Monday, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

The storm could continue to be a Category 1 or 2 as it moves up the coast from the Carolinas, possibly following a devastating path up the I-95 corridor. However, the path and strength of Hurricane Irene are still “highly uncertain” according to the National Weather Service.

Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, said Irene could become a “big threat to New England” in a press conference call. “This storm could produce anywhere from 6 to 10 inches of rain, depending on how fast it will move through,” weather service meteorologist Alan Dunham said. “A 30-mile difference in track is going to make a huge difference in what people experience.”

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