By Richard Lewis
BRISTOL, Rhode Island (Reuters) - The sign in big red letters taped to the door at the Prudence Island ferry landing in this bayside Rhode Island town said it all: "Hurricane Approaching."
In a hurried revision, it continued: "The ferry will be canceling trips for Sunday and Monday, so plan accordingly."
Across New England on Saturday, vacationers trudged inland, fishermen dry-docked their boats and residents stocked up on supplies and locked down their homes as Hurricane Irene churned toward the Northeast.
Irene howled ashore in North Carolina on Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane 530 miles across with 85 miles per hour winds. At least five deaths were attributed to the hurricane by Saturday evening.
Rich Kenerson, 50, whose family has owned a home on Prudence Island since 1961, was among several dozen people who filed off the Prudence Island ferry Saturday. He said he would ride out Irene with his wife on the mainland. Most of his neighbors planned to stay on the island, he said.
"They'll sit there and ride it out," he said of Prudence's residents, which number less than 150. "They know where the wine is and where the beer is. They'll be fine."
Authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents who live on or near the water in six Rhode Island communities, including Bristol.
Irene's precise path remains in doubt, but it was in line to lash Rhode Island and coastal Massachusetts with strong winds, heavy rains and potentially dangerous storm surges.
Amtrak canceled trains on Saturday and suspended all service across the Northeast for Sunday. Cancellations and delays were also piling up at Boston's Logan International Airport, authorities said.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said he would likely be playing Scrabble with his wife by candle light at home during the worst of the storm on Sunday. He urged residents to stay off the streets when the storm hits New England.
Fishermen and recreational boaters said they would take no chances, pulling their vessels up on land or moving them to open-water moorings to keep them from being smashed by a storm surge.
"You won't be able to walk down to the dock (anyway)," said Josh Soares, a shellfisherman who works out of Bristol. He said he pulled his boat out of the water because the fishing grounds will likely be closed for at least a week.
RIDING OUT THE STORM
Not everyone joined the throngs fleeing island vacations for safer ground on the New England mainland.
"We've had this booked for so long," said Nikia Murchie, a Boston resident taking a ferry to Nantucket with friends. "If we thought we'd get hurt, we wouldn't go," Murchie said.
Murchie's group brought a propane camping stove and supplies as a precaution, and were the first car in line for the evening ferry trip to Nantucket.
Scott Silberfein and his family reached Cape Cod from Westchester County, New York, on Saturday prepared to wait out the storm and then hit the beach after it passes. They played a round of miniature golf before the rain.
"No lines, no traffic and we got the kids some exercise before the rain comes," Silberfein said.
Traffic was light around Cape Cod on Saturday and six emergency shelters were scheduled to open in the evening. Bridges to Cape Cod would be closed if sustained winds reach 70 miles per hour, potentially cutting it off from the mainland, authorities said.
Many others opted to cut their New England vacations short.
At Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island, fewer than a dozen swimmers hit the waves Saturday. By contrast, a busy summer day might bring 10,000 visitors, beach manager Chris Carty said. The beach will be closed Sunday.
"Right now we are most worried about the storm surge but we want to leave the beach open as long as it is safe for people to enjoy it," Carty said.
Veteran local resident Mae Kearns, who remembers the 1938 hurricane that killed about 600 people in New England, most of them in Rhode Island, said she has been preparing for the storm for days.
"We took everything that could blow away inside," said Kearns, who lives a few miles from the Narragansett beach.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Rhode Island; Editing by Tim Gaynor and David Bailey)