NEWBURYPORT — As Hurricane Earl inches its way closer to the eastern seaboard, possibly affecting New England with wind, rain and high surf, Newburyport police are encouraging residents to register for the department's Reverse 911 phone alert system.

After a conference call with the National Weather Service and the Executive Office of Public Safety yesterday, Marshal Thomas Howard said the region could feel the effects of a Category 2 or 3 hurricane, even if the heart of the storm remains offshore.

"Now is a great time to at least get yourself registered," Howard said.

Category 2 hurricanes range in intensity from 96 to 110 mph winds. Category 3 hurricanes can pack winds as fast as 130 mph. Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans five years ago was briefly a Category 5 storm.

Currently, most computer models are showing the storm drifting offshore, close enough to bring impacts less than hurricane strength, but the National Weather Service acknowledged that Earl's track could also pass directly over the Bay State coastline by Thursday or Friday.

As of 3 p.m. yesterday, Hurricane Earl was directly off the coast of Puerto Rico, moving at 15 mph north by northwest and generating winds as fast as 125 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Howard said he's recently been in contact with his Newbury counterpart, Chief Michael Reilly, in terms of preparing Plum Island residents should Hurricane Earl make landfall there. Plum Island beaches are extremely vulnerable to hurricane-related damage. Beaches suffered severe erosion as a result of last week's nor'easter, which lingered around the region for three days.

Howard said should the city need to relay any hurricane-related information, it would likely be through its Reverse 911 system. Newburyport recently tested its Reverse 911 system, calling the roughly 8,000 people in the department's databank and alerting them of the department's new system.

The department's Reverse 911 database was compiled by entering residents' phone numbers listed in the White Pages. But since many people have unlisted phone numbers or use cell phones exclusively, the database is incomplete. Residents of border communities are also encouraged to register.

Residents can register for the Reverse 911 system by visiting the police department's website, newburyportpolice.com, or the city's website, cityofnewburyport.com.

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