More than a quarter of a million residents and visitors were ordered to leave North Carolina's low-lying Outer Banks Tuesday as Hurricane Bonnie accelerated on a path that could carry its fury into the barrier island chain.

The National Weather Service said Bonnie's center with its 115 mph wind could be near the Outer Banks by Wednesday morning.Hurricane warnings were posted from Murrells Inlet, S.C., to the North Carolina-Virginia state line. The warnings mean dangerous wind and heavy rain could hit the area within 24 hours. Hurricane watches extended south to Savannah, Ga., and north to Cape Henlopen, Del.

While the storm was still hundreds of miles away, the Atlantic was showing its effects with 10-foot waves reported on the North Carolina beach. Gray, white-capped waves hit the New Jersey shore in breakers 4 feet to 6 feet high, pounding onto the sand with a dull roar.

Margaret Boone wasn't surprised that her vacation to the Outer Banks with six friends was ending Tuesday. "I just knew we was going to get run home," said Boone, of Thurmont, Md.

The state of Virginia and some coastal communities elsewhere had already banned swimming because of rip tides - strong currents near the beaches - that are blamed for three drownings over the weekend in South Carolina, North Carolina and Delaware.

"People were getting sucked out left and right," said lifeguard Mike Palmer at Margate Beach, N.J. One man was missing Monday in the surf off Point Pleasant Beach.

By midmorning Tuesday, the storm's eye was centered about 340 miles south of Cape Hatteras, which sits on the Outer Banks 50 miles south of Nags Head.

Evacuation orders were posted Tuesday for beach communities along the southern coast near Wilmington.