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Top hurricane prep tip: Get gas

People on a small island off the coast of North Carolina are already being told to evacuate as Hurricane Irene storms toward the Eastern Seaboard. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.

NBC News’ Kerry Sanders has covered almost every major hurricane to hit from the Eastern seaboard to Central America over the last 30 years. From Hurricane Andrew in 1992 to Katrina in 2005 – he’s been there.

As Hurricane Irene strengthens into a Category 3 storm and looks like it may head straight for the East Coast, he reports from Emerald Isle, N.C., on people bracing for the storm and how best to prepare.

What are people doing there to prepare for the hurricane?
Here on Emerald Isle, on the North Carolina coast, preps have not really started, at least in a visible way. There are just a few homes that are boarded up.

But it's all anyone is talking about. At "Mike's Place", a local diner, Irene is the main topic of conversation. The consensus here is that Irene will likely disrupt life, and folks will have to evacuate. But just as folks in Florida did, they're waiting to see what the National Hurricane Center says about the storm’s track.

In South Florida, folks waited before acting, and now they've received the "all clear." It's the same scenario here – people are still in wait and see mode.

But on Ocracoke Island, a little farther up the coast, evacuations are already underway. The first ferry from the island Wednesday had mostly tourists leaving despite today's beautiful weather.

Are locals worried about the Category 3 storm that appears to be coming their way or do they feel prepared?
Residents here tell me that if Hurricane Irene comes ashore as a Category 3 storm, they know the devastation will be severe. Homes and businesses are not the only concern, but a hurricane of that size could also severely erode the coastline. Coastal erosion is a constant here, but experts say a hurricane can erase portions of the coast in 48 hours equal to seven years of routine weather.

Should people further up the East Coast be worried? 
It appears Irene could move a tad more to the east. And while that's good news for residents of South Carolina and lower portions of North Carolina, it could also mean Virginia and even New York may face Irene. As always, it's smart to check msnbc.com’s Hurricane Tracker or weather.com to see where the updated government models project Irene will go.

How should people along Hurricane Irene’s path prepare for the hurricane?
The number one item folks should get now is: a full tank of gasoline. It's not so much that the stations will run out of gas, but rather it’s a good proactive move to avoid wasting time waiting in long lines later.

People should also stock up on water, some non-perishable food (things like granola bars, peanut butter, jelly and a loaf of bread are always popular), a cooler and grab your insurance papers and photo albums. 

Finally, since you have time, take some snap shots of the inside of your home. If you lose everything, you'll have a record of what was lost. The insurance company will be glad you did, but so will you as the pictures will remind you of each item you lost. It's not uncommon for victims to remember four or five months after a storm that they also lost a small knick knack that was not on the insurance claim, but by then it may be too late. With pictures, it’s hard to forget.

Are people looking over their insurance policies to see if they are covered? In the post-Katrina world, are folks along the coast more aware of insurance issues?
It's not possible to get an insurance policy now that Irene has formed and is headed towards the East Coast. But you should take a look at your current policy – and you should have it with you. Put it in a Zip Lock bag so it won’t get wet in case you need to pull it out when you're moving in the early feeder bands of the storm.

What is the best thing to do while you sit and wait for the storm to come?
Once you have evacuated inland, either to a hotel, a shelter, or a friend’s house, remember that you will probably lose power. Do you have a flashlight? A radio? A deck of cards or a board game?  I think if you're with others, there is comfort in numbers. A storm’s power can make some scary sounds, and if you're with someone else, you can tell each other that things will be OK. Usually, if you've taken the right precautions, that will become true.
Otherwise, good luck and don’t ignore local emergency warnings.

I've covered hurricanes for more than 30 years, from Central America to the tip of Long Island. Not one person I ever met who stayed behind to protect their property was able to do anything effective during a hurricane. You can't go outside and secure a shutter that breaks free when the winds are 100-plus miles per hour.

And if your home is hit and you're in a shelter, in those first hours or days, your curiosity is the only victim. Looting is always prevented by police. So if you're back home in five hours or two days, nothing really changes other than your level of frustration about "not knowing what happened to your home."

But one thing that is certain: you're alive and you're not injured.