Hurricane Irene's path began reaching the U.S. East Coast on Friday ahead of a weekend of anticipated punishing weather from the Carolinas to as far north as Massachusetts, threatening at least 65 million people in the storm's track.
Federal officials have warned Irene could cause flooding, power outages or worse all along the East Coast as far north as Maine, even if it stays offshore.
Speaking Friday on CBS's The Early Show, North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said the state has Highway Patrol Troopers, the Red Cross and National Guardsmen in place to deal with the storm's aftermath.
She warned coastal residents not to risk waiting out the storm and hoping for help after it passed. You can't count on that, she said. Folks need to decide that they need to get out now.
For hundreds of miles, as many as 65 million people along the densely populated East Coast warily waited Friday for a dangerous hurricane that has the potential to inflict billions of dollars in damages anywhere within that urban sprawl that arcs from Washington and Baltimore through Philadelphia, New York, Boston and beyond, the Associated Press said.
Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has said people as far north as New England should be ready for the storm.
For residents in states that may be affected later this week, it's critical that you take this storm seriously, said Fugate.
Officials said the projected path has gradually shifted to the east, though Irene is still expected to make landfall as a major hurricane in North Carolina sometime over the weekend.
The storm is expected to continue trudging northward.
Evacuations began earlier this week on a tiny barrier island off North Carolina, in a test of whether people in the cross-hairs of the first serious hurricane along the East Coast in years will heed orders to get out of the way.
The last hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. was Ike, which pounded Texas in 2008.
East Coast residents are stocking up on bottled water and plywood. Many Twitter users have shared updates this week on the storm's progress, while others hoped it wouldn't come their way.
After several extremely active years, Florida hasn't been struck by a hurricane since Wilma raked across the state's south in October 2005. That storm was responsible for at least five deaths in the state and came two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans' parishes.