Irene Approaches NC
With storm clouds looming in the background, Charlotte residents Mark and Denise Flanders and daughter Verity enjoy their vacation on the east end of Ocean Isle Beach in Southeastern North Carolina, August 24, 2011. The family has a rental house through Sunday but plan on leaving for home a day early if the winds and rain from Irene spoil their travels to the coast. REUTERS

As Hurricane Irene threatens to lash the U.S. East Coast including major cities along the I-95 corridor by late in the weekend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has signed a declaration of emergency in order to mobilize the National Guard in preparation for the storm.

Christie said the move will allow the National Guard to begin working throughout the state to prepare for the approaching storm, labeled by The Weather Channel as an extraordinary threat for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S.

The governor urged anyone planning to go to the Jersey Shore this weekend not to go. He said Hurricane Irene will be a serious, significant event for the state when signing the declaration of emergency papers.

Christie stressed that This is not just going to be a Shore incident; this is going to be a statewide incident.

Unusually large and powerful, Hurricane Irene is moving slow but plodding on a path that's pushing the massive storm toward possible landfall on the North Carolina coast Saturday before assaulting the Northeast's I-95 corridor late Sunday. Forecast models show Irene could make a direct hit on the New York City region, including parts of New Jersey.

With hurricane force winds of at least 74 miles per hour currently extending 70 miles from its center, and tropical-storm force winds extending another 255 miles in all directions, the Category 3 storm is packing winds of 115 miles per hour and forecasters say the storm could strengthen before hitting North Carolina's Outer Banks over the weekend.

As Irene threatens to become one of the most impacting storms to ever strike the Northeast U.S., possibly assaulting major cities including Philadelphia, New York and Boston at hurricane strength late into the weekend, officials from throughout the region, including the largest cities, began to make emergency plans.

After lashing the Bahamas on Wednesday, Irene is moving up the U.S. East Coast at a slow crawl, but getting the attention of millions of residents along the U.S. East Coast who lie in the forecast path along the way. The first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season is posing an extreme threat to the U.S. East Coast -- with the potential to become historic before it sweeps away from the U.S. mainland by late Monday or early Tuesday.

Irene is currently centered about 100 miles east-northeast of Nassau, and moving northwest at 13 miles per hour. The hurricane could still be a major hurricane causing extreme impacts to eastern North Carolina later Friday night and Saturday. With winds over 100 miles per hour, torrential rainfall, ocean and sound flooding and a damaging storm surge are expected on the Outer Banks and western shores of the sounds.

Forecasters say hurricane force winds could be felt over the mainland almost to I-95 late into the weekend. Also, the storm track forecast models show that Irene may hug the coastline potentially making a landfall not too far east of New York City Sunday evening.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is urging city residents to focus on potential damage Irene could cause, in a rare hurricane strength strike.

He met with city officials Wednesday preparing emergency plans. Forecasts suggest Irene could make a direct hit on New York late Sunday, ravaging the metro area with flooding, hurricane strength winds, downed power lines, power outages and downed trees and possibly broken winds and flying debris.

Things happen in the city, Bloomberg said, at a briefing after the city experienced an earthquake this week. Quite honestly, I am more concerned about our preparations for a hurricane that's approaching...Everyone should keep an eye on the storm and pay attention to the office emergency management when they put out some advisories on what we should prepare for as we get closer to the potential storm.

In North Carolina, many residents and tourists of the Outer Banks are evacuating as the storms moves that way, with potential of a landfall.

There's going to be flooding, there's going to be heavy rain, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Mike Rusnak, in the Virginia Pilot. It's just a matter of the exact track because it's still two days out and it's still too early to try to figure out out what kind of numbers to give here.

Irene is threatening to become the first major hurricane to hit the U.S. East Coast since Wilma struck Florida in 2005. Hurricane Ike was the last storm to make U.S. landfall, in 2008.

The storm could strengthen Thursday to a Category 4, with 135 miles per hour winds, the National Hurricane Center said, but it will likely fall in strength once it climbs higher up the East Coast through colder water. Still, few storms reach the New York area at hurricane strength. Thus, Irene's big threat is grabbing headlines and attention Thursday.

Weather Channel experts on Thursday morning called Irene's threat to North Carolina coastal areas and the high-population northeast corridor particularly threatening and it is best for people to be on alert.

Computer models have sharpened over the last 24 hours and the latest forecasts early Thursday show rare storm potency for portions of the Northeast. Irene is expected to approach the Carolinas late Friday night through Saturday, with Northeast U.S. impacts continuing into the weekend and early Monday of next week.

The governors of New York and Connecticut ordered agencies to make ready for the storm. In Rhode Island, officials plan to activate a 24-hour operations center, said Denis Riel, a spokesman for the Emergency Management Agency.

Hurricane Bill was the last hurricane to strike the tri-state New York area back in 2009 and only minor damage was reported.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano on Wednesday warned residents to be prepared.

This is a good time to get prepared again in your homes, he said. There's items that you should stock up on, those that need to move or possibly be evacuated, perhaps seniors should think about having their medications refilled and having enough on hand.