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Maryland Keeping Close Eye On Irene

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(Credit: AP)

(Credit: AP)

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland officials are keeping close tabs on the track and strength of Hurricane Irene.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Wednesday afternoon that Irene’s winds had strengthened to about 120 mph (193 kph). The storm was centered about 250 miles (402 kilometers) southeast of the Bahamian capital of Nassau, though forecasters say hurricane conditions are already occurring over the southeastern Bahamas.

Irene is expected to get stronger over warm ocean waters and could become a Category 4 storm with winds of at least 131 mph (211 kph) by Thursday.

Irene was moving to the northwest at 12 mph (19 kph) on its path to the U.S. East Coast.

Gov. Martin O’Malley held a conference call with state emergency management officials on Tuesday to discuss the hurricane, as well as an earthquake felt in Maryland.

Richard Muth, director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, says the Eastern Shore is now on Irene’s current projected trajectory.

Muth says if projections don’t change, the hurricane would hit Maryland as a Category 1 hurricane this weekend, but it could gain strength.

It’s possible Irene will make landfall over the North Carolina coast Saturday, then move north into the Chesapeake Bay. But because such projections can be uncertain, Irene could straddle the coast.

O’Malley is encouraging residents to be aware of flood maps available by the state.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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