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Irene churned toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Friday as a slightly weakened Category 2 hurricane, with winds of about 105 miles per hour, down from 115 mph on Thursday night.

“All indications point to this being a historic hurricane,” President Barack Obama said in a statement Friday from the Martha’s Vineyard estate where he has been vacationing this week. “I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now,” Mr. Obama said. He said he would leave Martha’s Vineyard Friday night, instead of Saturday morning, to deal with the hurricane.

At a briefing for reporters on Friday morning, federal officials urged those in potentially affected areas to pay close attention to local officials’ instructions, including evacuation orders. “All planning and preparation will be in vain if people don’t heed evacuation orders,” said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that “the window for preparation is quickly closing.” She advised residents to develop an emergency plan and to stock up on supplies like food, water, flashlights and batteries. “We do anticipate a significant amount of power outages with this storm,” she said.

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Thousands of New Yorkers ordered to leave homes as city’s ENTIRE public transport system closes before Hurricane Irene hits

  • Obama warns America that it is about to experience an ‘historic hurricane’
  • Hurricane claims first American casualties as eight injured in south Florida
  • 6ft to 9ft waves hit North Carolina coast ahead of Saturday touchdown
  • Mayor Bloomberg tells people in Coney Island and Far Rockaway to find somewhere else to stay in case vicious storm hits New York
  • Calls for people immediately to flee Jersey Shore ahead of storm’s progression up East Coast to New Jersey and New York on Sunday
  • States of emergency declared in six states – New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Delaware

By Mark Duell, Laurie Whitwell and Paul Bentley

Last updated at 10:12 PM on 26th August 2011

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Here it comes: Cory Ritz braces himself as a wave bursts onto a pier at the Boynton Beach inlet on August 25, 2011 in Boynton Beach, Florida

Get lost: A sign saying ‘Go Away Irene!’ is spray painted on a boarded up storefront in preparation for Hurricane Irene on Friday in Cape May, New Jersey

Direction: The hurricane is affecting most of the U.S. East Coast and will head north towards New York

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