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Residents along Earl's projected path stocking up ahead of storm

By the CNN Wire Staff
Tina McGory of Columbia, South Carolina, and her family clear their rented house Thursday in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Tina McGory of Columbia, South Carolina, and her family clear their rented house Thursday in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
  • Crowds pack grocery stores in some towns along the East Coast
  • The seas are getting too rough for surfers, Kitty Hawk resident says
  • Some people are sticking to their vacation plans in North Carolina and Virginia

If you are affected by Hurricane Earl, please share your images and info with CNN iReport, but please do not expose yourself to a risky situation.

(CNN) -- Chris Meek put his motorcycle in storage in Wilmington, North Carolina, to protect it from Hurricane Earl as the Category 4 hurricane headed toward the North Carolina coast.

He fought crowds at the grocery store to stock up on supplies and tried to soothe anxieties among students in his sixth-grade class.

About 175 miles away, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Sarah Baker was bracing Thursday for her first hurricane. "The locals have been really nice, telling me what I needed to buy to get ready," the recent college graduate said.

Meek and Baker are two of millions of people watching and waiting as Hurricane Earl looms offshore, moving closer and closer to land.

"We were a little nervous yesterday because we were unsure of the track of the storm," but now it looks like it's going to miss his area, said Meek, who teaches social studies and science at Charles P. Murray Middle School. Several of his students live in Carolina Beach, just south of the zone covered by a hurricane warning.

One student's mother bought a lot of water, and another, whose father is in the military, brought home dozens of MREs -- meals ready to eat -- that are normally issued to troops in the field.

Meek said he's also seen a rush at several local stores, including supermarkets, as well as home improvement and hardware stores, as people try to get ready for whatever Earl brings.

Video: North Carolina: 'Ready' for Earl
Video: Earl strengthens as it nears Carolinas
Video: Outer Banks residents evacuating

Some of his students talked about their fears of the impending hurricane, sparked by footage they'd seen of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Meek said. They were nervous that something similar could happen in their neighborhoods, he explained. But now that it looks like the worst of the storm might miss them, they're disappointed that they won't have a day off from school tomorrow, he joked.

Baker said this is her first hurricane.

"I'm looking forward to it," she said, although she admitted she doesn't really know what to expect.

The Oklahoma native, who works for a vacation rental company in Kitty Hawk, said she saw tornadoes in her home state and later experienced earthquakes when she moved to Southern California.

Now, fresh out of college and newly established in Kitty Hawk, she's enjoying the scene.

"We had a beautiful sunrise -- I'm making a video of that now -- and it's just starting to get cloudy."

Baker, who contributed video of waves and surf churned up by Hurricane Earl to CNN's iReport, says she hopes she doesn't have to stay inside too much.

"There are some guys who do hurricane preparations and I'm going to go out with them for a while and shoot some more video," she said.

Are people still out?

"Yes, they are. I saw some people out surfing this morning, but the rip tides are really getting strong so I don't think they'll be able to stay in much longer. I saw this one guy who went into the surf and just a couple of minutes later he was a quarter mile down the beach."

Many vacationers along the Carolina coast started to head home Wednesday, especially after a few counties issued evacuation orders for visitors.

But that's not stopping Jason Bays, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, from making a planned trip to visit friends in North Carolina.

"Where we were going is actually a beach condo they own" in Jacksonville, North Carolina, said Bays, 38. "But they live in Greenville, which is kind of northwest of Jacksonville, so we're going to stay there instead. That's if there's power and things like that. I'm hoping it's not too bad."

Bays, an engineer for AT&T, said he was "kind of bummed out" when he first thought that Earl might affect his vacation plans.

"But then I found out that it wasn't going to be an exact hit, so we thought maybe we'll still try to make it, which we are going to go for," he told CNN.

He previously lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for seven years, so he's experienced hurricanes before.

"I've lived through a few," Bays said. He said usually he drove north to get away from the storms, but on one occasion, about five years ago, he decided to ride out the hurricane. "The wind was incredible. I couldn't believe it."

"I remember thinking, I wish I would have left," he added. "It's a scary thing."

Rusty Mace of Beaufort, North Carolina, said all he saw at one point Thursday were "sprinkles," a dark gray sky, and tides perking up -- but not lightning and thunder.

"I hate to say it," said Mace, "but we are used to this." He lives right on the ocean and is expecting no more than wind, rain, and possible power outages.

"I guess you can say we're idiots," he said "We've got our mobile home tied down and we're good to go."

Mace said only a couple of stores have closed, but no one is boarding up windows or taking extreme precautions.

Mace's mother is ill so there is no way they could evacuate if they wanted to, but he states, "Even if we could leave, we wouldn't."

"My biggest concern," said Mace, "is if the refrigerator is going to be running tomorrow."

Watch Mace's iReport from the coast

Scott Bard and his family have decided to ride out Hurricane Earl as they are visiting Sandbridge, Virginia. He thinks the storm will be a "glancing blow," but his wife disagrees.

"The first thing she said to me this morning was 'we should evacuate,'" said Bard, "and I usually listen to her, but this time I'm pretty confident we'll be OK."

Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Bard said he experienced what he thinks will turn out to be a worse storm, Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

Chris Hall -- president of Blue Water Yacht Sales in Hampton, Virginia, -- also remembers the "really bad" Isabel, and said some people are really preparing for this hurricane and others aren't.

"I'm personally concerned that if the storm doesn't turn, we'll have a big surprise," Hall said.

Many of his customers are moving boats off the water where the surge is mounting up, and they are trying to create more room for boats that are evacuating the churning sea.

"We're sending trucks to New England to pick up additional stands," said Hall. "And until we run out of real estate, we'll keep hauling."

Farther north in Belmar, New Jersey, 42-year-old Mary Wall owns the Matisse Restaurant -- right on the boardwalk by the ocean.

She said the town has already started to prepare by erecting a storm fence in hopes of keeping sand from going onto the boardwalk. She's taking awnings and other things down -- tasks she usually performs in the winter.

"We've already got 8- to 10-foot waves. It's a little windy, but not that much yet," she said. "I don't think it's going to get that bad. From what I'm watching right now, we're going to get 40 miles an hour winds. ... Hopefully, unless it turns, it's going to miss us."

The big negative is that this big holiday beach weekend could turn into a dud for some shore businesses.

But, Wall said, "this weekend might be a wash." While the storm will keep many away, it might attract others.

"I'll get people who'll want to sit in the restaurant and watch the storm," she said.

CNN's Melissa Gray, Randy Harber, Alan Silverleib, Kelsey Jones and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.