Irene strengthened to a Category 3 major hurricane as it churned through the Bahamas yesterday on a path forecast to take it to North Carolina’s Outer Banks and into New England.


The storm, with winds of 115 miles per hour, may cause “devastating damage,” the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. Evacuations began yesterday on the Outer Banks.


Rain, beach erosion and tidal surge “will be in play from the mid-Atlantic all the way up to New England as the storm progresses,” center director Bill Read warned.


Irene, 285 miles southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas, is forecast to pass near the North Carolina coast on Aug. 27 and then strike Long Island and Rhode Island on a path toward Boston early on Sunday, according to the center’s projections.


A Category 2 storm has winds of 96 to 110 mph.

Residents and visitors to Ocracoke Island off the North Carolina coast started to evacuate yesterday, the Charlotte Observer reported. Gov. Bev Perdue urged residents yesterday to have three days of food, water and supplies in case Irene comes ashore there.

In New York, the most populous U.S. city, officials planned to open the emergency operations center in Brooklyn yesterday. Based on National Weather Service data, city officials assume a “strong possibility” the storm “could impact New York City or Long Island directly.”