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Hurricane Earl Nears US Atlantic Coast

Hurricane Earl edged toward the Atlantic coastline Thursday as tourists and residents fled the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the wake of forecasts that the storm might lash the state by the end of the day.

The National Hurricane Center said late Wednesday the storm was picking up strength, with winds of about 140 m.p.h. It placed most of the North Carolina coast under a hurricane warning — meaning that hurricane conditions were expected at least somewhere in that stretch.

Earl, expected to hit the region sometime Thursday evening, was already churning the surf. To the north, a tropical storm warning was in effect from Virginia to Sandy Hook, N.J., and a hurricane watch for all of Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Storms following a path like Earl’s, running roughly parallel to the coast, can threaten outcroppings like Cape Hatteras, N.C., where a mandatory evacuation was in place on Wednesday. But they can also create a brief, rare season of world-class surfing on the northern Atlantic, particularly on beaches that face south or that, like Masonboro, are protected by a jetty.

Forecasters said the heart of Hurricane Earl was not likely to made landfall, remaining about 100 miles offshore and dealing Cape Hatteras a glancing blow before moving north, perhaps strafing Cape Cod and the Maine shoreline on Friday night and Saturday. Still, experts warned that it could buffet the coast with destructive winds and currents, generating large waves and hazardous riptides and forcing vacationers away from the ocean in the last week of summer break.