* This could occur at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras
* Any shift west of Earl’s track could prompt evacuations (Recasts, adds details, quotes)
MIAMI, Aug 31 (Reuters) - U.S. authorities are considering coastal evacuations along the eastern seaboard if Hurricane Earl’s track suddenly shifts westward after coming close to the North Carolina coast this week, federal officials said on Tuesday.
"There is still some concern for a close approach to Cape Hatteras on Thursday and Thursday night," National Hurricane Center (NHC) Director Bill Read told a conference call with journalists.
Hurricane Earl, a Category 4 storm packing top sustained winds of 135 miles per hour (215 kph), was heading on a path toward the North Carolina coast on Tuesday after lashing Puerto Rico and northeast Caribbean islands with winds, rain and waves, the hurricane center said. The forecast sees it swinging up along the U.S. east coast in the coming days. [ID:nN31228995]
"We’re running parallel to the coast (in our forecast) ... So a small error of 100 miles in the wrong direction could be a huge impact difference," Read said,
"Even a minor shift back to the west could bring impacts to portions of the coastline from the mid-Atlantic northwards," he added.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said that so far, government forecasters were not predicting any direct full-on landfall for Earl on the U.S. eastern seaboard.
Nevertheless, any sudden deviation to the west in the hurricane’s currently forecast track in coming days could prompt coastal evacuations, Fugate said.
He said the primary risk from Earl if it suddenly changed course westwards would be from storm surge on the shoreline.
"Today is the day to make sure you’ve got your family evacuation plan ... It’s too early to rule out anything ... Earl is a very large storm, it’s a very powerful storm, and today’s your preparedness day. Tomorrow may require people to begin heeding evacuation orders," Fugate said. (Reporting by Pascal Fletcher, Tom Brown; Editing by Jackie Frank)