Hurricane Irene could potentially hit anywhere from North Carolina and New York this weekend, and many officials are left wondering if they should tell tourists to evacuate during the final stretch of the multibillion–dollar summer season.
As of Wednesday, Irene had pummeled the low-laying chain of islands of the Bahamas. Many tourists reportedly cut their vacations short and boarded the last flights out in anticipation of the Category 3 storm. Those who stayed behind braced for violent winds—peaking at 120 miles per hour—and a dangerous storm surge.
With the six–year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching on Monday, visions of what could be are likely to guide the decisions of emergency response teams along the eastern seaboard.
Despite memories of Katrina, a storm that ravaged Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama in 2005, killing more than 1,800 people and displacing thousands more, many officials have adopted a wait-and-see attitude for Irene.
"You will never endanger your tourists, but you also don't want to over-inflate the sense of urgency about the storm. And so let's just hang on," North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue told the Associated Press on Wednesday. At the same time, she warned to "prepare for the worst."
Irene has already hit Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, causing landslides and flooding homes, the AP reports. One woman was killed.
Officials said Irene could cause flooding, power outages or worse as far north as Maine, even if the eye of the storm stays offshore, according to the report.
Hurricane–force winds were expected 50 miles from the center of the storm, the report adds.