Thousands flee as Hurricane Irene circles US

THOUSANDS of people have fled the US east coast as it braces for Hurricane Irene, which is threatening up to 65 million people from the Carolinas to New England.

Authorities from North Carolina to New York declared states of emergency and thousands of people were ordered to higher ground today as Irene packed winds of 185km/h in its race toward the US mainland.

“There’s hardly any excuse for people not to know that there’s a hurricane out there,” said Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“People need to understand that their time will be running out to be prepared and be ready,” he told reporters in a conference call.

The hurricane is set to slam into North Carolina early Saturday local time before roaring toward New York City, accompanied by an “extremely dangerous” storm surge that could raise water levels by as much as 3.4m, the National Weather Service said.

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