Ocracoke Island, NC
Ocracoke Island, NC Creative Common

North Carolina coastal communities have started to evacuate residents and tourists in preparation for Hurricane Irene, which is moving northwest-ward from the Caribbean toward the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Irene has been upgraded to a Category 3 storm as it passes over the Bahamas on Wednesday, with winds as strong as 115 miles per hour.

Federal officials have warned that Irene could cause major flooding and power outages all along the East Coast as far north as Maine. The storm is expected to hit the Carolinas on Saturday.

According to local media, ferries are carrying passengers and cars from Ocracoke Island, a 16-mile barrier island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. On Wednesday morning, a state of emergency was also declared in Hyde County, on the southern half of the Outer Banks.

Thousands of tourists are believed to be in Ocracoke, which normally has a local population of only 800 full-year residents and is accessible only by boats from the mainland. Ferry boats serving Ocracoke can only carry about fifty people at a time.

Newlywed Jennifer Baharek, 23 years old, of Torrington, Conn., who got off the ferry on the mainland coast, told reporters she and her husband were wed on Monday and wanted to spend their honeymoon on the island.

We just got to spend one day on the beach and then we went to bed early to get up for the evacuation, she said.

Hurricane Floyd which made landfall as a Category 2 storm in 1999, destroyed dozens of houses and other properties all across the Outer Banks.

Residents on North Carolina's mainland have reportedly already prepared for the worst – buying up gasoline for power generators and other necessities, like plywood to protect windows, flashlights, potable water and batteries.

The governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue, has placed the National Guard on standby and activated an emergency management regional center in the town of Kinston.

She said that state government will work round-the-clock over the weekend.

Make sure you have three days' worth of food, water and supplies, said Perdue on Tuesday. Also make sure you know the evacuation routes, in case you must leave the area. Lastly, have a plan for keeping your family and pets safe.