CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) - Hurricane Earl made its presence known Wednesday despite being hundreds of miles from the East Coast of the U.S., menacing swimmers with dangerous rip currents and large swells as forecasters expanded a hurricane watch northward from North Carolina into coastal Virginia.
More video: Rip currents threaten swimmers
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Ocracoke Island, on North Carolina's Outer Banks, and Cape Lookout National Seashore, as well as for visitors to Hatteras Island.
Earl lost some of its punch early Wednesday and was downgraded to a Category 3 storm, with maximum sustained winds near 125 mph (200 kph). However, it was still a major hurricane, and forecasters said more fluctuations in intensity were possible in the next 48 hours. Tracking maps show Earl approaching the North Carolina coast early Friday as a Category 3 storm.
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