Ocracoke Island evacuations start in preparation of Hurricane Irene

As expected, Hurricane Irene strengthened to a Category 3 storm earlier today, prompting those right in the middle of Irene’s current projected path to take safety measures – or, at the least, stock up on essentials.

With the strengthening of the hurricane and signs that it could strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane before it hits U.S. territory by this weekend, evacuations were called for at Ocracoke Island, located off the coast of North Carolina – the first stop in Irene’s potentially destructive path.

Officials are urging tourists to Ocracoke Island, as well as its several thousand residents, to evacuate by Thursday morning. “It’s a standard precaution,” said Beverly Perdue, governor of North Carolina. “We want folks [in the path of the storm] to take this storm seriously and to get prepared.”

Despite fears that Irene could strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane before it makes landfall on Ocracoke Island, the attitude is mostly less-than-urgent at the moment. While officials are urging tourists and residents to be prepared, local government is taking a wait-and-see approach before stepping up measures.

Despite the call for evacuations, there doesn’t appear to be a rush to get away from the island. North Carolina’s Department of Transportation stated in a tweet that ferries from Ocracoke Island were only half full, though they do expect traffic to pick up as the day winds down.