Forecasters warn Irene could get worse.
The storm is likely to strengthen into a Category 4 monster by the time it makes landfall in the U.S. this weekend.
Irene could crawl up the coast Sunday toward the Northeast region, where residents aren't accustomed to such storms.
It's been more seven years since a major hurricane, considered a Category 3 with winds of at least 111 mph, hit the East Coast. Hurricane Jeanne came ashore on Florida's east coast in 2004.
The last hurricane to hit the U.S. was Ike in 2008. The last Category 3 or higher to hit the Carolinas was Bonnie in 1998, but caused less damage than other memorable hurricanes: Hugo in 1989, Floyd in 1999 and Isabel in 2003.
Though a Category 2, Isabel cut a new inlet through Hatteras Island and killed 33 people.