Looming Hurricane Earl forced vacationers and some residents off North Carolina’s barrier islands yesterday, churning up dangerous swells and prompting storm alerts along the U.S. East Coast.


Watches and warnings were posted along the Atlantic seaboard for most of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and part of Delaware, alerting residents that hurricane conditions were possible in 36 to 48 hours. Earl was a major Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds as it barreled across the Atlantic east of the Bahamas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.


While a direct U.S. landfall was not forecast, Earl was on track to deliver a sidelong blow to the North Carolina coast, with its center seen passing within 100 miles of the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands late Thursday or early Friday.


“We’re forecasting it still to be a major hurricane at that time so this is still a serious situation,” NHC forecaster Wallace Hogsett said.


Earl was expected to bring driving rain, high winds, pounding surf and rip currents to the densely populated U.S. coast from North Carolina to New England during the Labor Day holiday weekend that marks the end of the summer vacation season.