Federal officials with FEMA and the National Hurricane Center were blunt today in assessing Irene's threat to North Carolina's coast.
For the past few days, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate and NHC director Bill Read have been holding daily conference calls with reporters, talking about the latest forecasts for the storm and the plans currently in place to respond to it all along the eastern seaboard.
The focus, today, though, was on North Carolina.
Read said he expects the NHC will issue hurricane warnings at 5pm today for the areas currently under hurricane watch. That's most of the state's coastline, from Topsail Island northward. Irene updates from Gov. Perdue, FEMA
Read said NHC's confidence in its current forecast through Saturday morning is "quite high."
"There will be an impact on eastern North Carolina. In our opinion, the storm will maintain winds of 115 mph as it approaches the North Carolina coast,” Read said.
FEMA director Craig Fugate said he had not yet received a request from help from any governor, but said the staging area set up at Fort Bragg will be fully stocked with big generators, bottled food and water, tarps, and other supplies.
"North Carolina has got the greatest threat right now and looks the most likely to receive direct landfall," Fugate said. "This will not be just a coastal storm." He said high winds, flooding, and power outages from downed trees are likely well inland.
Fugate also urged eastern NC residents to heed the warnings of local officials and evacuate if asked to. "People need to understand that their time will be running out to be prepared and be ready."