Hurricane Irene continued its path of destruction towards the U.S. East Coast on Thursday -- posing extreme danger to some of the country's largest cities.

The National Hurricane Center extended its Hurricane Warning from North Carolina to the Virginia border in its 5 p.m. advisory. Additionally the NHC issued a Hurricane Watch -- which indicates a possible hurricane within the next 48 hours -- from the Virginia/North Carolina border all the way up to Sandy Hook in New Jersey.

The Category 3 storm pummeled the northern Bahamas on Thursday, as it continued on its path for an eventual meeting with the Carolinas. The storm could strengthen to a Category 4 storm by Friday, according to the National Weather Center, as East Coasters begin to evacuate coastal towns.

Currently Irene is a major Category 3 hurricane with winds of 115 mph moving past. The storm is centered about 575 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving north-northwest at 14 mph.

Popular North Carolina beach destinations, such as the Outer Banks and Ocean City, have encouraged potential vacationers to avoid the area due to the impending hurricane. More than 200,000 tourists and locals have been evacuated.

States from the Carolinas to Maine began issuing state of emergency warnings and evacuation guidelines to residents.

There are multiple different scenarios for what path Irene might take -- mostly depending on the steering pattern of the Bermuda high.

One current scenario for Hurricane Irene's path would bring it right past Richmond, Washington, and Baltimore. That would bring heavy rainfall and heavy winds potentially upwards of 100 mph -- just days after an earthquake rocked the area.

Governors of Virginia and Maryland both issue states of emergency for the storm, hoping to mobilize and prepare residents for what was in store. Ocean City, a popular tourist town in Maryland, has told visitors to not come due to a high probability of rain and strong winds.

In Virginia, Navy officials have moved 27 ships hundreds of miles away from their usual resting spot in the Hampton Roads area due to strong storm surges.

But it's in the Northeast -- usually remiss of hurricanes -- where most attention has turned gearing up for Irene's arrival. Recent forecasts for Irene have it set on a direct path for the New York and New England areas.

New York and New Jersey both issued states of emergency ahead of what could be the worst hurricane to ever hit those states.

The storm is expected to deliver heavy rain, and winds of up to 100 mph, when it reaches New Jersey on Saturday afternoon. The storm is expected to deliver at least 5 to 10 inches of rain and could cause major flooding, according to Bill Read, the director of the National Hurricane Center.

In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg warned of possible evacuations, but that recent forecasts didn't have the storm directly hitting the city.

The most at risk areas within the city are Battery Park City in Manhattan, Coney Island in Brooklyn, South Beach, Midland Beach, and low-lying areas of Staten Island.

The New York area that could be hit the hardest is Long Island.

It looks like Long Island will be impacted in some way by this system, whether it's a hurricane or not when it gets here, said meteorologist Brian Ciemnecki of the National Weather Service to Newsday.

The last hurricane to hit the area was Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and this storm is looking far worse than Gloria. Long Island residents have already begun stocking up on items in preparation for the big storm and the damage it will do.

It could even approach the damage of a 1938 Category 3 hurricane that rocked the area.

Potential Hurricane Damage

As Irene makes its way towards the United States, insurance companies look on with elevated concern over the potential damage that it could cause. Kinetic Analysis Corp. estimates the storm has caused $3.1 billion in damage in the Caribbean already.

While the strength is clearly important, it's the area of impact that could most factor into the amount of economic damage.  

It really depends on where it makes landfall, Chris Hackett, the Director for Personal Line Policy for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, told the IBTimes. If it makes landfall right in Miami where there are a lot of high-rise condominiums the damage will be a lot more expensive than if it hits a rural area in Georgia or in the Carolinas.

Hackett said that insurers are likely tracking the hurricane and following where scientists and meteorologists are predicting the hurricane will hit. Once insurers know impacted locations, they can send mobile catastrophe units to help people as soon as possible after a disaster.

Wherever it does hit, insurers definitely take it very seriously in trying to be as responsible to policy holders as they can be, he added.

Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight estimated that a Category 4 storm, though very unlikely, could cause close to $200 billion if it directly hit New York. The more likely scenario, a hit from a Category 2 storm, could cause close to $10 billion in damages.