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Irene weakens but remains threat

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 7:34 p.m. MDT

People walk in the rain during the passing of Hurricane Irene on a road from Gonaives to Cap Haitian, Haiti, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. Irene was still lashing the northern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where crews have begun cleaning up debris and the government warned of flooding. It was forecast to pass over or near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by Tuesday night and be near the central Bahamas early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (Associated Press) People walk in the rain during the passing of Hurricane Irene on a road from Gonaives to Cap Haitian, Haiti, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. Irene was still lashing the northern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where crews have begun cleaning up debris and the government warned of flooding. It was forecast to pass over or near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by Tuesday night and be near the central Bahamas early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (Associated Press)

WILMINGTON, N.C. — People stocked up on food, boarded windows and gassed up their cars Tuesday as Hurricane Irene threatened to become the most powerful storm to hit the East Coast in more than a decade.

Water, bread and batteries disappeared from store shelves. Lines formed at the pump. From Florida to Maine, residents were told to brace for flash flooding and power outages.

Hundreds of miles south, Irene swirled through the Caribbean, giving a glimpse of what was to come. Homes were inundated with water, residents took refuge in schools and churches, and more than a million people were without electricity. One woman was killed in Puerto Rico.

Forecasters warned it could get worse: The storm was likely to strengthen into a Category 4 monster by the time it makes a landfall in the U.S. this weekend, most likely hitting North Carolina. Irene could crawl up the coast Sunday toward the Northeast region, where residents aren't accustomed to such storms.

ORRECTION TO CLARIFY  EFFECTS OF HURRICANE IRENE IN HAITI - People walk on the road between Gonaives and Cap Haitien under the rain from the outer bands of Hurricane Irene in Haiti, Tuesday Aug. 23, 2011. Irene was still lashing the northern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where crews have begun cleaning up debris and the government warned of flooding. It was forecast to pass over or near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by Tuesday night and be near the central Bahamas early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (Associated Press) ORRECTION TO CLARIFY EFFECTS OF HURRICANE IRENE IN HAITI - People walk on the road between Gonaives and Cap Haitien under the rain from the outer bands of Hurricane Irene in Haiti, Tuesday Aug. 23, 2011. Irene was still lashing the northern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where crews have begun cleaning up debris and the government warned of flooding. It was forecast to pass over or near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by Tuesday night and be near the central Bahamas early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (Associated Press)

Officials dusted off evacuation plans and readied for the first hurricane to threaten the U.S. in three years. It's been more than a decade since the East Coast has been hit by a major hurricane, considered a Category 3 with winds of at least 111 mph.

Though Irene was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on Tuesday with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, forecasters believed it would strengthen over warm waters.

"I'm not panicking, but I was born and raised here," said Peggy Temple, of Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

She bought sandbags to protect her first-floor property from flooding.

"I know the drill. You want to be ready, because you can't be putting up storm shutters with 100 mile an hour winds and torrential rain," she said.

Nearby, scores of bronzed sunbathers strolled around in bathing suits and towels, soaking up one of the last weeks of the summer tourist season. Traffic was typical for this time of year, with more cars headed toward the beach than away from it, though some vacationers had started canceling weekend hotel reservations.

A resident rides a horse through a flooded neighborhood after the passing of Hurricane Irene in Nagua on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, Tuesday Aug. 23, 2011.  Hundreds were displaced by flooding in the Dominican Republic, forced to take refuge in churches, schools or relatives' homes. Electricity also was cut in some areas. (AP Photo/Roberto Guzman) (Associated Press) A resident rides a horse through a flooded neighborhood after the passing of Hurricane Irene in Nagua on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, Tuesday Aug. 23, 2011. Hundreds were displaced by flooding in the Dominican Republic, forced to take refuge in churches, schools or relatives' homes. Electricity also was cut in some areas. (AP Photo/Roberto Guzman) (Associated Press)

On Ocracoke Island, tourists and residents were told to leave by Thursday so the island's ferries wouldn't be overwhelmed. But many on the 16-mile-long barrier island would probably stay, said Tommy Hutcherson, who serves on the local board that issues evacuation orders.

"I'll be here," said Hutcherson, who has lived on Ocracoke for 29 years. "A lot of the locals will choose to stay."

Bob Eure, who works at the Island Tackle & Hardware in Carolina Beach, said people streamed in all day, buying flashlights and five-gallon gas cans to fill with water. Others bought fish tackle.

"With the water stirred up, the fish will bite better," he said.

Still, Eure said, people are worried, particularly those who have moved to the area from other parts of the country.

Resort landscaping manager Chris Jaeger fills his truck and ten five-gallon gas containers Tuesday morning in Garden City, S.C., Tuesday Aug. 23, 2011. Jaeger said they gassed up their vehicles Monday and just want to be prepared in case Hurricane Irene hits the Myrtle Beach, S.C. area. (AP Photo/The Sun News , Steve Jessmore) (Associated Press) Resort landscaping manager Chris Jaeger fills his truck and ten five-gallon gas containers Tuesday morning in Garden City, S.C., Tuesday Aug. 23, 2011. Jaeger said they gassed up their vehicles Monday and just want to be prepared in case Hurricane Irene hits the Myrtle Beach, S.C. area. (AP Photo/The Sun News , Steve Jessmore) (Associated Press)

"It's still too early and we don't know where it's going to hit, but everyone is getting ready. You have to prepare yourself for the storm," he said.

The last hurricane to hit the U.S. was Ike in 2008. The last Category 3 or higher to hit the Carolinas was Bonnie in 1998, but caused less damage than other memorable hurricanes: Hugo in 1989, Floyd in 1999 and Isabel in 2003.

Though a Category 2, Isabel cut a new inlet through Hatteras Island and killed 33 people.

In Washington, the National Park Service considered postponing Sunday's dedication of the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. Hundreds of thousands of people were expected on the National Mall.

As far north as Maine, residents were told they could be affected by Irene.

"We need to remind people, hurricanes are not just a Southern thing. This could be the Mid-Atlantic and the northeast coast," Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said during a conference call with reporters.

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