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Thousands of residents and tourists were ordered to evacuate two North Carolina islands Tuesday as Hurricane Felix headed toward the U.S. mainland after pounding Bermuda. Hurricane warnings were posted from South Carolina to Virginia.

"A storm like this will put the fear of God in people," said Bermuda tourist Joe Denton, 84, of New York City. Felix caused more than a half-million dollars worth of damage to the hotel where he was staying.Pounding surf thundered along the East Coast, forcing lifeguards to close many beaches to swimmers as far north as New York. Three people had died in the surf since the weekend. But there were no reports of injuries in Bermuda.

The hurricane warning area extended from north of Little River Inlet in South Carolina to Chincoteague, Va. A hurricane watch - a less-severe form of advisory than a warning - was in effect in coastal areas of South Carolina, Virginia and Delaware on either side of the warning area.

"This storm is very big and widespread," said Tom Ditt, North Carolina state emergency man-age-ment spokesman. "It's going to hit everywhere along the coast in some degree."

Bermuda was forced to indefinitely postpone Tuesday's scheduled referendum on independence from Britain because of power outages and streets blocked by fallen trees.

Residents and visitors on North Carolina's coastal Ocracoke and Hatteras islands, part of the Outer Banks chain, were ordered to evacuate Tuesday morning.