Powerful Hurricane Irene battered the Bahamas on Wednesday on a track to the North Carolina coast that forecasters say could threaten the densely populated US Northeast, including New York, starting on Sunday.
Irene, a major Category 3 storm with winds of 195 kilometers per hour, pounded the southeast Bahamian islands with winds, rain and dangerous storm surge. Tourists fled the storm and major cruise lines canceled Bahamas stops.
The first hurricane of the storm-filled 2011 Atlantic season was expected to gain strength after it leaves the Bahamas on Thursday and race across open waters to clip North Carolina's jutting Outer Banks region on Saturday.
After that, forecasters see it hugging the US eastern seaboard, swirling rains and winds across several hundred kilometers as it churns northward toward New England.