Six states along the east coast of the United States yesterday declared emergencies ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irene.

The first hurricane of the Atlantic season was last night a category 3 storm, with winds of 185km/h still expected to strengthen.

Irene moved on from the Bahamas, having caused havoc in the Caribbean and taken the blame for at least two deaths, while in the United States, states of emergency were declared in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina.

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The storm also caused the cancellation of Monday's dedication of a newly opened memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. It will be held next month at the earliest.

Projections suggested Irene would become the first hurricane to directly strike the US mainland since 2008, when Hurricane Ike killed more than 50 people and caused about US$30 billion ($36 billion) in damage.

- Agencies