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US ALERT AS HURRICANE IRENE NEARS.

Thousands of holidaymakers on the US east coast have been ordered to head home as Hurricane Irene approaches after pounding the Bahamas islands chain.

The tourists on North Carolina's Outer Banks were told to leave the exposed strip of coastal villages and beaches.

Hurricane Irene has severely damaged dozens of homes in the southern Bahamas.

The National Emergency Management Agency reported that a settlement known as Lovely Bay on Acklins island in the Bahamas was destroyed.

The agency said at least 40 homes were badly damaged on the island of Mayaguana. Authorities were still gathering damage reports. Trees were knocked down and streets flooded throughout the archipelago but there are no reports of deaths or injuries.

Hurricane Irene's wind weakened to about 115 mph yesterday as the storm battered the island of Eleuthera.

Winds in the capital of Nassau were not expected to exceed 65mph.

Forecasters said, however, that the winds will ramp up quickly over the next day and Irene was expected to blow into a monstrous Category 4 with winds at least 131 mph.

The evacuation order for North Carolina's string of barrier islands went into effect today and officials estimated up to 150,000 tourists would be leaving. Authorities concerned about traffic closed schools in the region on what was to be the first day of the academic year.

In Virginia, the US Navy ordered the Second Fleet to leave Norfolk Naval Station to keep ships safe from the approaching hurricane.

Forecasters say that Irene could hit North Carolina's Outer Banks as early as tomorrow afternoon.

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HELL IN PARADISE: Hurricane Irene hits the Bahamas
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Geographic Code:1U5NC
Date:Aug 26, 2011
Words:269
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