Couple at beach
A bird flies past a couple sitting on the beach in Rehoboth, Deleware. REUTERS

The state of Delaware has been placed under a tornado watch until 8 p.m. Saturday evening, as Hurricane Irene plods its way up the eastern coast of the U.S.

According to local forecasters, Hurricane Irene, with touched landfall on the coast of North Carolina on Saturday morning, is expected to pass as close as about 25 miles east of Fenwick Island, Delaware early Sunday morning.

Fenwick, just above the Maryland border, is at the extreme southeastern tip of Delaware.

Hurricane-force winds will thus impact much of the two southern counties of Delaware, Sussex and Kent. More immediate damage is likely to strike coastal towns with monster winds and storm surges, including Rehoboth Beach and Lewes – which are located 35 to 40 miles east of the storm’s anticipated center track.

Forecasters are predicting winds as high as 85 mph for southern Delaware.

The National Weather Service said parts of Delaware could be drenched with between 6 and 12 inches of rains, raising fears of widespread flooding.

On Friday, Governor Jack Markell imposed an evacuation order for most coastal residents as by 9 a.m. Saturday. Wilmington, way up in northern New Castle County, will order evacuations by 6 p.m. for low-lying areas near the Brandywine and Christina rivers