Tourists are beginning to evacuate Ocracoke Island, just off the coast of North Carolina, ahead of Hurricane Irene, which is expected to maintain intensity as it tracks northward toward the state.

During a news conference, Gov. Beverly Perdue said residents will be asked to leave their homes on Thursday morning ahead of the Category 3 hurricane.

It's a standard precaution, Perdue said. We want folks [in eastern North Carolina] to take this storm seriously and to get prepared.

The powerful storm, which seems to be getting stronger, is expected to hit this weekend.

The Associated Press reported that Wednesday's evacuation served as test to see whether people in the crosshairs of the first major hurricane along the East Coast in years would heed orders to get out of the way.

Ocracoke is accessible only by boat and can carry no more than 50 cars at a time. The first one arrived just before 5:30 a.m. in nearby Hatteras with around a dozen cars on board, AP said.

About 800 residents call Ocracoke home all year round. Tourist population can grow into the thousands.

While Irene continues to churn in the Caribbean, tourists scampered from hotels in Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas, to catch flights off the island before the airport's expected afternoon closure, the AP said.

But Caribbean islands in the path of Hurricane Irene aren't the only ones taking precaution.

U.S. officials in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are also getting ready for the Category 3 hurricane.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation tweeted that the ferries leaving the barrier island are only half-full and there is moderate traffic.

Traffic to pick up as the day progresses, the tweet stated.

Hurricane Irene has already made its way pass Puerto Rico and going through other parts of the Caribbean. The hurricane's trajectory suggests that it will hit North Carolina directly, but weather officials aren't certain. Giving Irene stays on its current path, it could make landfall on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center's forecast predicts.