HURRICANE IRENE

Hurricane Irene: Thousands flee as Hurricane Irene bears down

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In Nags Head, police officer Edward Mann cruised the streets in search of cars in driveways — a telltale sign they planned to stay behind. He warned those that authorities wouldn't be able to help holdouts in hurricane-force winds, and that electricity and water could be out for days.

Some tell Mann they're staying because they feel safe or because the storm won't be as bad as predicted. Mann, 25, said some have told him they've ridden out more storms than years he's been alive.

Bucky Domanski, 71, was among those who told Mann he wasn't leaving. The officer handed the retired salesman a piece of paper warning of the perils of staying behind. Domanski said he understood.

"I could be wrong, but everything meteorologists have predicted never pans out," Domanski said. "I don't know, maybe I've been lulled to sleep. But my gut tells me it's not going to be as bad as predicted. I hope I'm right."

Speaking Friday on CBS' "The Early Show," North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said state troopers, the Red Cross and the National Guard were in place to deal with the storm's aftermath, which she said could affect some 3.5 million people.

North Carolina was just first in line along the Eastern Seaboard — home to some of the nation's priciest real estate.

Besides major cities, sprawling suburbs, ports, airports, highways, cropland and mile after mile of built-up beachfront neighborhoods are in harm's way. In several spots along the coast, hospitals and nursing homes worked to move patients and residents to safety.

"One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast coast," Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center's retired director, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The hurricane could be the strongest to strike the East Coast in seven years, and people were already getting out of the way.

The center of the storm was still about 300 miles (483 kilometers) south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving to the north at 14 mph (22 kph).

The latest forecasts showed Irene crashing into the North Carolina coastline Saturday, then churning up the Eastern Seaboard and drenching areas from Virginia to New York City before a weakened storm reaches New England.

In Washington, Irene dashed hopes of dedicating a 30-foot sculpture to Martin Luther King Jr. on Sunday on the National Mall. While a direct strike on the nation's capital appeared slim, organizers said the forecasts of wind and heavy rain made it too dangerous to summon a throng they expected to number up to 250,000.

In the Sandbridge section of Virginia Beach, Va., rental companies raced to evacuate guests and board up rental homes.

John Landbeck of Aberdeen, Md. spent Friday morning packing up the vacation home he was renting and pulling his fishing boat out of the water. He planned to ride out the storm at a hotel in Chesapeake and return to his rental for another two weeks once the storm passed. He said he'd stay out of harm's way but was taking things in stride.

"Hopefully we won't have any earthquakes, no more hurricanes, no more floods. But It's been fun. For me, life is an adventure. Whatever comes, we take it," he said.

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