U.S. alerts East Coast to Hurricane Irene threat

NASSAU,  (Reuters) – The United States put its  eastern seaboard on alert for Hurricane Irene yesterday, as  the powerful storm barreled up from the Caribbean on a path  that could hit the U.S. coast on the weekend. 

Even as the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season  pounded the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeast Bahamas  with battering winds, rain and a dangerous storm surge, coastal  residents in the Carolinas were preparing for Irene’s  approach.
  
“I pray God’s blessing on us all,” Bahamas Prime Minister  Hubert Ingraham said as he urged residents of his Atlantic  archipelago nation southeast of Florida to take shelter.  

Irene is the ninth named storm of the busy  June-through-November season and looks set to be the first  hurricane to hit the United States since Ike pounded the Texas  coast in 2008. 
 
It weakened yesterday to a Category 1 hurricane on the  five-step Saffir Simpson scale of intensity, but could  strengthen into a major Category 3 storm with winds over 111  miles per hour (178 km per hour) by Thursday, the Hurricane  Center forecasters said  

While warning the entire U.S. East Coast to be on the  alert, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig  Fugate and National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said it  was too early to be certain where Irene would directly hit the  coastline.
  
“We’re going to have a very large tropical cyclone move up  the Eastern Seaboard over the next five to seven days,” Read  said on a conference call in which he spoke along with Fugate.  

Irene was forecast to approach the coast of the Carolinas  on Saturday morning as a major storm of Category 3 or upward,  Read said. 
 
After that, the already saturated New England region of the  East Coast could be at risk for torrential rains, high winds  and flooding from Irene, Fugate said. Major eastern cities like  Washington and New York could feel some impact from Irene, the  forecast indicated. 
 
In a separate development, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake  struck the U.S. East Coast, shaking Washington, New York and  other cities.  

Irene could put a damper on Sunday’s dedication ceremony  for the new memorial honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther  King Jr. on Washington’s National Mall. Tens of thousands of  people, including President Barack Obama, were expected to  attend.

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