Virginia-based U.S. naval ships in Hurricane Irene's path have been ordered to move farther out to sea, where they will be out of the way of the approaching storm.

The Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia is an integral location for the Navy, containing shipyards and military facilities that include the massive Naval Station Norfolk. The base is particularly vulnerable to storm surges, or blasts of water, whipped up by the hurricane's winds, and Navy protocol dictates that ships must move to safer waters when storms become capable of winds of 50 knots and a five to seven-foot storm surge.

Thursday, the Navy sent 27 ships out to sea, including destroyers, submarines and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nine additional ships had already been sent away, and another 28 are at piers considered to be shielded from the hurricane's effects.

The forecasted destructive winds and tidal surge is too great to keep the ships in port. There is a much greater potential of not only the ships being damaged, but also the pier infrastructure, Vice Adm. Daniel Holloway, commander of the Norfolk-based Second Fleet, said in a statement. Having the ships underway also makes them ready and available to respond to any national tasking, including any needed disaster response efforts in the local area after the storm has passed.

The order left some sailors scrambling, including those who had to cut their leaves short to rush back to the city and help with preparations.

Really, the big important thing is we needed to make sure the sailors and their families were ready to get the sailors under way unexpectedly for three or four days, Cmdr. Adan Cruz, commanding officer of the Norfolk-based guided missile destroyer USS Mason, told the Associated Press.