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Hurricane Ophelia inched toward the US East Coast, prompting forecasters to place parts of two Atlantic states on a hurricane watch and the governor of North Carolina to declare a state of emergency.
Local officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for non-residents on the low-lying vacation island of Ocracoke on the North Carolina Outer Banks.
The watch issued by the National Hurricane Centre in Miami cautioned millions of residents that fierce winds and other hurricane conditions were possible within 36 hours along America's southeastern coast from the Savannah River in South Carolina to Cape Lookout in North Carolina.
Sustained winds had been gauged as high as 128km/h within Ophelia, which was near latitude 31.8 north and longitude 76.2 west, or some 365km east-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, at 5pm (0700 AEST), according to a hurricane centre advisory.
"Ophelia has been meandering mainly toward the north near 2 mph (3km/h). Little motion is anticipated tonight or Sunday," forecasters in Miami said.
The forecasters, who said the hurricane watch may be extended further north, described Ophelia as a large category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale that was unlikely to strengthen significantly during the next 24 hours.