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Raleigh - North Carolina declared a state of emergency Thursday as it braced for powerful Hurricane Irene, with a county ordering thousands of residents to evacuate.
The southeastern US state's governor, Bev Perdue, formally declared a state of emergency, which gives special powers to government agencies to "promote and secure the protection of the populace".
In coastal Dare County, local authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation, asking all residents to head to two shelters by 08:00 (12:00 GMT) on Friday. The county began supervising the exit of visitors and people with special needs.
Up to 180 000 people are affected by the evacuation order in Dare County, which has a large seasonal population in summer, county official said Kelly Davis said.
"The mandatory evacuation means that we strongly advise you to leave. If at a point of time you need emergency response personnel, they will not be available," Davis said.
"If you choose to stay, we can't issue a criminal citation, but you are leaving yourself wide open to extreme conditions," she said.
Hurricane Irene on Thursday was heading toward the US coast after battering the Bahamas. At least three people have died in Haiti and Puerto Rico.