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Hurricane Irene to hit US east coast

Hurricane Irene strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane over the Bahamas yesterday as it roared up from the Caribbean on a path expected to swipe the east coast of the US at the weekend.

Irene, the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season and the first this year to seriously threaten the US, was expected to intensify further over the coming days as it sweeps over the Bahamas. The US National Hurricane Centre warned of an "extremely dangerous" storm surge.

Forecasters see Irene striking North Carolina's Outer Banks region on Saturday afternoon and then taking a track up the mid-Atlantic and New England coastline. Even if the centre of the storm stays offshore, the hurricane could lash cities including Washington and New York and cause coastal flooding and power outages.