NORFOLK, Va. (AP)- U.S. Navy ships stationed in Virginia have been ordered to leave Norfolk Naval Station in preparation for Hurricane Irene.

The order impacts 64 ships in southeastern Virginia.

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Virginia is home to several Navy installations, including the world’s largest naval base.

The Navy said ships that are “under way” can better weather such storms. It also will help protect piers from being damaged.

Ships are moved when storms can produce winds of 50 knots and a five to seven-foot storm surge.

Nine ships are already at sea. Twenty-seven ships are being moved out to sea and another 28 will be moved to other places such as repair shipyards that are safer than the piers at Norfolk.

Throughout the East Coast, evacuations are taking place.

Tens of thousands of tourists on North Carolina’s outer banks are being told to cut short vacations and flee the exposed strip of coastal villages and beaches as Hurricane Irene approaches.

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Tourists who were leaving said they wanted to be sure they would be safe. Locals were boarding up homes and businesses.

An evacuation order for Dare County went into effect Thursday morning and officials estimated up to 150,000 tourists would be leaving. Authorities concerned about traffic closed schools in Dare and a neighboring county on what was to be the first day of the academic year.

As of early Thursday there was no crush of traffic, but many expected that could change.

Meanwhile, emergency officials all the way to New England were scrambling to get ready.

Craig Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, urged people to find out if they are in an area that could need to evacuate, figure out which local official would give an evacuation order and pay attention to local broadcasters for that information.

“When you evacuate, you want to know where you’re going and make sure you have somewhere to go, not just get on the road with everybody else and hope you find some place,” Fugate said Thursday on CBS’s “The Early Show.”

Irene could hit North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Saturday afternoon with winds around 115 mph (185 kph). It’s predicted to chug up the East Coast, dumping rain from Virginia to New York City before a much-weakened form reaches land in Connecticut.

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