|Residents have been ordered to evacuate their homes as Hurricane Earl approaches the eastern US coast [Reuters]
Tens of thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate islands off the eastern coast of the United States, as Hurricane Earl closes in on a large swath of the Atlantic region.
Authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for visitors of North Carolina's barrier islands, where Earl, a powerful storm, was on course to wreak havoc as it moves north.
Earl was downgraded to a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity and had top sustained winds of 165 kph after weakening on Thursday from its Category 4 peak, the US National Hurricane Center said.
Additional weakening was expected but Earl was still a large and strong hurricane on course to bring destructive winds and heavy rains to the coast of North Carolina. , the forecasters said.
"The surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves," the centre warned on its website, adding that large swells associated with the storm "will likely cause dangerous surf conditions and rip currents" through the weekend.
Earl was due to pass near the Outer Banks overnight, making its closest approach near Cape Hatteras around 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) on Friday, before turning gradually northeast to sweep up the East Coast on Friday and into Canada on Saturday.
Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar, reporting from North Carolina on the US east coast, said: "The eye of the hurricane is approaching where we are. It is a series of barrier islands that are going to take the full brunt of Hurricane Earl.
"The hurricane has been downgraded but the winds are getting stronger by the second and it feels like it is going to be a pretty ferocious storm nonetheless.
"And these islands are so narrow that they could suffer an enormous amount of flooding and material damage - 100,000 people have been evacuated."
Barack Obama, the US president, has signed a declaration of a state of emergency for North Carolina, opening the door to federal assistance for the state.
But some residents said they hoped to remain. Matt Propst, a local business owner, said he was hopeful he would be able to keep his company's operations up and running, despite the storm.
"Hopefully, it's going to miss us. They say it's going a little bit north, but a one degree change could completely change the course of the hurricane," he told the Reuters news agency.
"Hopefully, no broken windows, hopefully the boat will stay at its dock, we won't lose that, we're gonna probably take up the jet skis and that sort of thing.
"At the office, we are just hoping for all of the computers to stay online, all the servers to stay online, all the phones to stay online, so we can continue to work."