AVALON, N.J. (CBS) – Hurricane Irene’s final destination still isn’t known, but emergency personnel down the shore urge people to start planning right now.

Communities along the New Jersey shore are keeping a close watch on the path of Hurricane Irene as it approaches the U.S. There are concerns about high winds, potential serious flooding and the loss of power.

Lenora Boninfante, spokesman for Cape May County’s emergency management operations, says right now shore communities are in a watch mode and many already are getting prepared for a rough ride.

“We are asking all our residents to make sure that they have an emergency plan, to make sure that they have enough food and medication in case they would need to leave,” she told KYW Newsradio. “And really, right now, the only thing we stress is precautionary measures and to make sure that we are prepared in case we would need to evacuate.”

Scott Wahl, a spokesman for the Borough of Avalon, says officials there are also advising residents and visitors to stay alert and keep updated on the forecast.

“We are looking at the probability of the worst of Hurricane Irene to impact Avalon on Saturday evening through Sunday evening,” Wahl told KYW Newsradio.

Wahl says the forecast models point to a very big storm off in the Atlantic, with the west side of it swiping the Jersey shore.

“We’re preparing for significant rainfall, strong, gusty winds and the potential for coastal flooding as well,” he says.

Avalon officials have posted on their website a request for people not to come onto the barrier island until the storm passes.

Atlantic City Emergency Management Director Tom Foley is tracking Irene, and will meet with the national weather service on Thursday.

He says this storm reminds him of another hurricane in 1985.

“This one has the same aspects as Gloria, except a lot closer,” he said.

Foley urges people who live in low lying areas here to consider voluntary evacuations before Saturday.

Frank Donato, the emergency management coordinator in Ocean City, says he’s already putting the word out to residents to get ready.

“Certainly, telling folks to make preparations. And that would include gathering supplies, being prepared, securing items around your property.”

Donato says it’s too early to say what impact the storm may have, but it’s looking pretty unlikely that shore communities will be spared.

Meanwhile state emergency management officials in New Jersey are keeping a close eye on the path of Hurricane Irene.

New Jersey State Police captain Frank Davis says that at this stage, state officials are glued to various forecasting services to keep track of Irene.

“The storm was initially a Category 1, it hit Turks and Cacos Islands and was upgraded to a Category 3. But for us, in terms of its impact, it’s looking off the coast of New Jersey to be at a Category 1, but we are constantly monitoring it and, more importantly, monitoring the path that it’s potentially going to take.”

Davis says state officials are keeping in touch with shore communities and expect to open up the state’s emergency operations center in West Trenton later in the week, ahead of the storm’s expected arrival on Saturday (see related story).

As to those who might have plans for an end-of-summer getaway to the Jersey shore?

“Take proactive measures now to change those plans,” Capt. Davis advises.

Reported by Mark Abrams, KYW Newsradio; Todd Quinones, CBS 3

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