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Hurricane threatens US holiday islands

Visitors and some residents were evacuated from low-lying holiday islands off the North Carolina coast yesterday as Hurricane Earl bore down on the US eastern seaboard, churning up dangerous swells.

Earl, still a major (Category 3) hurricane, weakened slightly overnight as it swept across the Atlantic east of the Bahamas. It was on track to approach North Carolina's coast early tomorrow, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

The second major hurricane of the season was packing top sustained winds of 125mph, with hurricane force winds extending up to 90 miles, and tropical storm-force winds extending to 200 miles.

Earl is not forecast to strike the US mainland directly, but its swirling winds were expected to sideswipe the densely populated coast from North Carolina to New England on a northward offshore path during the forthcoming Labour Day holiday weekend, which marks the end of the summer holiday season.

Earl could bring driving rain, high winds and pounding surf to the East Coast throughout tomorrow and Saturday. A spokesman for the NHC said no storm had threatened such a broad swath of the US shoreline since Hurricane Bob in 1991.

The centre of Earl is expected to pass within 100 miles of North Carolina's coastal Outer Banks (a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands) today or tomorrow.