ROBERT MOSES - ? Long Islanders are bracing for the worst this weekend as Hurricane Irene is taking aim at Long Island, and officials say the South Shore could face the brunt of it. Irene is showing no mercy as it pounded the Bahamas and barrels up the Atlantic Coast as a Category 3 hurricane. A hurricane watch was issued early Thursday for much of the North Carolina coast including the Outer Banks. Also, a tropical storm watch was issued for much of South Carolina's coast.

Officials in both Nassau and Suffolk counties are urging people to be prepared and to know where to go if they are forced to evacuate. If you're not planning on heading to a shelter, officials say to find a friend or relative who's out of the flood zone.

The Red Cross is deciding today on where to open its 50 shelters across Long Island that can house up to 60,000 people.

If the worst case scenario is to happen and Irene hits any part of Long Island, officials say evacuation times are being coordinated.

According to Newsday, the town of Southampton can get residents out of coastal areas in 8 hours. Suffolk County says it wants 48 hours to evacuate Fire Island. Nassau County says it needs 24 hours to get residents out of flood-prone South Shore areas.LIPA is also gearing up its crews and equipment but says it is trying to avoid another Hurricane Earl. During that storm the utility giant spent $34 million for a storm that never hit the island. Heavy surf conditions created by Irene may create strong riptides starting today. Officials say not to go swimming without a lifeguard watching.

Officials begin preparations as Hurricane Irene inches closerHurricane Irene strengthens, barrels toward East Coast

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