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Irene could hit Charleston, but still too early to tell

Hurricane now moving north from Hispaniola with 100 mph winds

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Forecasters say it's still too soon to tell whether Hurricane Irene, now moving north from the island of Hispaniola with wind speeds up to 100 mph, will make landfall in South Carolina. Charts from the National Weather Service show the storm moving parallel to the east coast of Florida over the next few days and possibly making landfall on Friday.

As of 11 a.m., Irene was moving north-northwest at about 12 mph, having dumped heavy rain on Haiti and the Dominican Republic. No fatalities have been reported yet, but downed power lines and mudslides in Puerto Rico prompted President Barack Obama to sign an emergency declaration last night making FEMA funds available for relief efforts there.

Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, says the storm appears to be getting more organized and will likely strengthen to Category 3 (with sustained winds of 111 to 130 mph) by tomorrow morning as it moves north over the Bahamas. By Thursday, Irene will be on open waters and could possibly shear off to the northeast, but he says it is "too early to get pinpointy on that."

"Just about anybody that lives along the southeast coast and mid-Atlantic needs to be aware of it and prepared for it," Read says.

Charleston moved into Operating Condition 4 on Monday afternoon, putting county employees on standby in case they are called to the Emergency Operations Center in the Public Services Building off of Leeds Avenue.

Cathy Haynes, chief of the Charleston County Emergency Management Department, said in a press release that people in the Charleston area should gather supplies and review their families' emergency plans.

Following the storm at home? Read warns that tropical storm-force winds can extend as far as 200 miles out from the eye of the storm, so it is best not to look only at the center line of Irene's trajectory.

For forecasting and tracking information, check the National Weather Service's regularly updated page about Hurricane Irene.

For preparedness tips, visit the county's emergency information page.

SCE&G has prepared a storm emergency checklist.

For a list of Charleston County's hurricane shelters, visit here.

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