Authorities along the Atlantic seaboard are closely monitoring Hurricane Irene’s projected path, and preparing for the powerful storm’s arrival later in the week.

The first major hurricane of the season became a Category 2 storm on Aug. 22, and could strengthen even more in the coming days.

Earlier this week, Hurricane Irene’s strong winds and heavy rains soaked the US Virgin Islands and knocked out power to more than one million people in Puerto Rico. According to the US National Hurricane Center, the storm is forecast to pass north of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the southeastern Bahamas, then head toward the southeastern United States.

Hurricane Irene is expected to reach Category 3 strength on Aug. 23, but could grow even larger while churning over tropical waters. Current government models have the storm’s outer bands sweeping Florida later this week before it takes aim at the Carolinas.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is warning residents living along the East Coast to “take this storm seriously.” Those living closest to the ocean should prepare for evacuations, while people living more inland should make sure they have batteries, drinking water, food, medicines and other necessary supplies.

[Reuters]